Authorities mull giving J&J vaccine arriving by Sunday to migrant workersAs destination countries are not allowing unvaccinated workers, they are stuck in Nepal. Chinese jabs Nepal bought likely to be given to over 55s and school teachers.
With 1,534,850 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine arriving in Nepal on Sunday, authorities are yet to decide who will get the single shot vaccine although discussions are going on about giving them to migrant workers waiting to be vaccinated to go abroad.
“All the 1,534,850 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine that are coming from COVAX will arrive by Sunday,” a Foreign Ministry official told the Post on condition of anonymity.
Reuters reported that the US was shipping Covid-19 vaccine to Nepal on Friday.
According to Health Ministry officials that the Post talked to, discussions are being held to provide the single shot vaccine to those migrant workers who have been stuck due to the vaccination issue.
“As the country is highly dependent on remittances, talks are being held to provide the single shot jabs to migrant workers. But the final decision has not been made yet,” an official at the Health Ministry told the Post, asking not to be named.
Not being vaccinated has made migrant workers worried.
Rakib Uddhin Ghauri, a resident of Masjid Tol of Kapilvastu Municipality, was supposed to leave for Doha, Qatar a month ago to work for an advertising agency.
He received his work permit before the second wave of the pandemic hit Nepal. But with Qatar mandating individuals to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 before entering the country or be quarantined at their own expense, which could cost up to Rs100,000, Ghauri has not been able to take his maiden flight to the Gulf nation.
Ghauri has been frequenting the District Health Office in Kapilvastu every day to see if he can get the jab.
“My visa expires in a month. If I don’t go soon, all my efforts to get the visa will have gone to waste. I have spent more than Rs100,000 for visa and other documentation,” said the 34-year-old.
Noor Mohammad of Bahadurganj Chowk of Kapilvastu Municipality has also been waiting to be vaccinated. He has got the visa to work in Qatar.
“I finally got my visa to Qatar to work as a van driver. But the shortage of vaccines in Nepal has made it impossible for me to go,” said Mohammad, 32.
Besides Qatar, in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Dubai of the United Arab Emirates, workers must be vaccinated and stakeholders in the foreign employment sector have asked for migrant workers to be prioritised.
“Some said the vaccine will arrive on Saturday and some on Sunday, but what is confirmed is we are getting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine soon,” the Health Ministry official said.
According to Health Ministry officials, the American single shot vaccine will be given within the month of July.
However, doctors say that providing vaccines according to age groups would be the right decision, which ensures equitable distribution and lessens hospitalisation and deaths.
“Compared to other age groups, hospitalisation among the elderly, who also have multiple comorbidities, is very high,” Dr Senendra Upreti, a former health secretary, told the Post. “Authorities can allocate the vaccine equitably if they inoculate on the basis of age group.”
Nepal has given 1.4 million people above the age of 65 the first dose of the Covishield vaccine but is still awaiting the second dose as India has banned the export of the Covid-19 vaccine following the second wave in late March.
Those aged 60 to 64 in Kathmandu Valley and 62 to 64 in the rest of the country, are at present getting the second dose of the Chinese Vero Cell vaccines with the 1 million doses of the vaccine that China gave in a grant in June.
A Nepal Airlines plane brought 800,000 doses of the vaccines from Beijing, China on Friday and authorities have been preparing to provide the jabs to people over 55 years old.
“Though the final decision is yet to be taken, people above 55 years old and teachers serving in both private and community schools, universities will most likely get the Chinese vaccine,” Dr Roshan Pokhrel, chief specialist at the Ministry of Health and Population, told the Post.
Nepal has purchased 4 million doses of BBIBP-CorV vaccine developed by an affiliate of the state-backed pharmaceutical giant Sinopharm. Flights are also scheduled for July 15 and July 22, each of which is expected to bring around 800,000 doses, according to Health Ministry officials.
“Vaccines that arrived Friday have already been sent to Hetauda and Pokhara and preparations are being made to send the jabs to Butwal also on Friday,” Jhalak Gautam, chief of National Immunisation Programme, told the Post.
According to the 2011 census report, there were then 817,847 people between 55 to 59 years old. Officials at the Health Ministry estimate that there might now be over 1 million people of the said age group throughout the country currently.
However, some people of the said group of the Kathmandu Valley and some mountainous districts have already taken the Chinese vaccine, provided by the Chinese government under grant assistance.
China had given 800,000 doses of BBIBP-CorV vaccine in March, which was administered in the districts of Kathmandu Valley and from Nuwakot, Kavrepalanchok, Sindhupalchowk and Rasuwa. Essential workers as well as people between 40 to 59 were provided with the jabs in those districts.
According to the Ministry of Health and Population data from Friday, 2,611,807 people have been given one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine and of them, 964.508 have received the required two doses. Both the AstraZeneca vaccine, which Nepal has received 2,448,000 doses altogether and 1.8 million Sinopharm vaccines, which Nepal had received grant from China before Friday, require two doses.
The government has already endorsed a national deployment and vaccination plan, which was developed with technical support of the World Health Organisation’s country office and other partners.
As per the plan, coronavirus vaccines were first given to the frontline workers including
health workers, security personnel deployed in the frontline, sanitation workers, administrative staff of health facilities, ambulance drivers, army personnel deployed in the management of dead bodies of the infected persons among others.
Authorities, however, provided the jabs to journalists, lawmakers, staffers of the local levels, staff working in the diplomatic missions, who were not in the priority groups.
The Chinese vaccine was said to be provided to the essential workers only initially but later provided to whosoever seek immunisation.
Public health experts suspect that this time too people of other groups could take the jabs using influence. They said that authorities should be strict on the decision and ensure equitable distribution, as people across the country are at risk of infection.
“We do not have to complain about the government’s vaccine deployment plan, but the plan should be implemented as per the spirit,” Dr Binjwala Shrestha, a public health expert, told the Post. “Authorities should ensure equitable distribution and also prioritize the most risk group in the vaccination.”
Nepal already lags far behind in immunisation compared to other countries, despite being among the first countries to start Covid-19 vaccination.
The government has decided to inoculate 72 percent of the 30 million population, as 28 percent are under 14 years of age but so far of the total population around 4 percent have been fully vaccinated.
As vaccination is the only reliable means to contain the menace of the pandemic, doctors said that authorities should make every effort to inoculate people equitably at the earliest.
Doctors say that authorities should be prepared to administer vaccines at the earliest, as the number of new infections is increasing every day and there is also the risk of a third wave of infection.
The government has been using a regular vaccination mechanism to administer coronavirus vaccines. Over 16,000 immunisation centres run every month throughout the country.
“We can administer up to 700,000 doses a day, for that authorities have to increase immunisation centres, launch massive awareness campaigns to get the vaccine and ensure smooth supply of the jabs,” said Dr Shyam Raj Upreti, coordinator of Covid-19 Vaccine Advisory Committee.
With the country hit by the second wave of the pandemic, infecting hundreds of thousands of people and killing over 6,000, vaccine acceptance rate increased, officials said.
On Friday, the Ministry of Health and Population reported 1,479 new cases, down from 2,077 on Wednesday. The total number of infections stands at 652,859.
The death toll is 9,3400 with 20 more reported to have died of Covid-19 complications. Positivity rate continues to be high and on Friday it stood at more than 22 percent.
(Manoj Paudel contributed reporting.)