60 to 64-year-olds to get Chinese jabs as WHO urges world to give shots to NepalWith health system bursting at the seams and a third wave likely, the world must show the same level of generosity that Nepalis have showered on visitors for years, UN body says.
The grant of one million doses of Covid-19 vaccines from China, most of which arrived on Tuesday, may provide some respite from the ongoing second wave of the pandemic as people between 60 and 64 years of age will be inoculated with them.
But the situation in Nepal continues to be dire.
“The speed of the surge in cases has resulted in acute shortages of essential supplies— human resources, oxygen, critical life support equipment and trained critical care health workers,” said World Health Organisation’s Nepal representative Dr Rajesh Sambhajirao Pandav,while addressing a UN media briefing on Tuesday.
“Hospitals have been forced to turn away patients due to unavailability of beds, health care workers are compelled to carry on with their duties despite experiencing exhaustion and in many cases, testing positive themselves.”
The number of daily positive cases may be coming down in the last few days but Nepal is not out of the woods and vaccines are the only way out, he said.
“Nepal’s health system is bursting at the seams,” Pandav said. “If Nepal does not receive vaccine supplies soon, we can expect continuation of the hardship that we are seeing now.”
With Nepal’s efforts to buy vaccines coming to naught, the country’s northern neighbour last week announced a grant of 1 million doses.
Of the grant, 900,800 arrived on Tuesday—800,000 from Beijing and 100,800 from Kunming.
The rest will be brought on Wednesday from Kunming in two flights by Himalaya Airlines which is ferrying the 200,000 vaccines that the Tibet Autonomous Region of China donated as part of its philanthropic activities, according to the company.
A meeting of officials at the Department of Health Services on Tuesday decided to inoculate those aged between 60 and 64 years with the newly-arrived vaccines throughout the country.
“We will administer the vaccine from all 77 districts throughout the country,” Dr Jhalak Gautam, chief of the National Immunisation Programme, told the Post. “Second dose of the vaccine will be preserved from this supply.”
It is estimated that the population between 60 and 64 years is around 850,000 but authorities believe that there will be enough in stock for two doses.
Gautam said that most of the eligible people from several mountain districts have already taken the first dose of Covishield vaccine and therefore all will not seek immunisation with the Chinese vaccine.
“We have around 100,000 doses in stock, which were provided to us by China earlier,” said Gautam. “We will also use these doses in the campaign.”
Authorities have been wary of not exhausting all vaccines in stock by inoculating people as many as possible with the first dose as those above 65 are yet to get their second dose.
It is unclear when they will get them since the Serum Institute of India is yet to supply the 1 million doses that Nepal has already paid for. India banned the export of vaccines after the country suffered a devastating second wave.
Those over 65 had got their first dose between March 7 and 15 and should have received their second dose from May 16. But the government extended the gap between the two doses to 12 to 16 weeks.
Nepal launched its vaccination drive on January 27 with the one million doses of Covishield that India had provided under grant assistance. It also received 348,000 doses from the COVAX facility. Of the 2 million doses of vaccines that Nepal bought from Serum Institute half has been delivered.
On March 29, China had provided 800,000 doses of BBIBP-CorV vaccine developed by an affiliate of state-backed pharmaceutical giant Sinopharm.
Only about seven percent of Nepal’s total population or just over 2.1 million people have been immunized. Of these, only less than seven hundred thousand have received
their second dose, according to the Health Ministry.
“Ongoing second wave of the infection shows that all people are vulnerable to the coronavirus infection,” Dr Sarad Onta, a public health expert, told the Post.
Despite that the country sees signs of stabilization and even a slight reduction in the numbers, the situation still remains critical, the UN health agency said.
“While things are very gradually improving in some cities, what we are seeing now is indications that the virus has penetrated rural areas,” said Pandav of the WHO. “In such rural settings there is limited access to secondary health services and lesser inclination among the population to seek early testing and care due to various structural and social issues.”
On Tuesday Nepal reported 5,285 new coronavirus infections taking the total number of infections to 566,587 of which 104,789 are still active. The death toll has reached 7,454 with the Ministry of Health and Population reporting 68 new deaths, the lowest in three weeks, from Covid-19 complications on Monday.
The positivity rate was more than an alarming 30 percent on Tuesday down from more than 40 percent a couple of weeks back.
Pandav warned that with the lockdown restrictions eventually being eased, new variants still emerging in the Asian region and lack of reliable supply of vaccines to ramp up coverage rapidly, there is a remarkably high likelihood that Nepal may witness another surge in cases.
He called on the government to step up efforts to make health facilities ready and take measures to check the spread in future.
“To ensure that the country is better prepared for the next wave, Nepal needs to swiftly increase its hospital surge capacity,” he said. “Screening and testing at border points and in communities with sustained spread; effective contact tracing; stringent but humane quarantine and isolation are especially important.”
Pandav also called on the international community to help Nepal.
“I appeal to all countries who have reserves of vaccines to please consider sharing them with Nepal as soon as you can,” said Pandav. “Nepalis have rightfully earned the reputation for being some of the most friendly and generous people in the world.”
“Today they need your help. They need the world to reciprocate the same level of generosity that they have bestowed upon visitors for years.”