As vaccines run out, ongoing inoculation phase, set for five days, is shortenedOfficials say demand for vaccines is very high. Flight scheduled to bring second shipment of jabs from China was deferred after the supplier said consignment wasn’t ready.
The Department of Health Services had decided to run the latest phase of the Covid-19 vaccination campaign, which began on Tuesday, for five days. Accordingly, health offices of the three districts of Kathmandu Valley, as well as of others, made an announcement to that effect.
But the vaccines the department supplied to them finished in three days.
“We had published a notice as per the direction of the department, but now we do not have any more vaccines to administer,” Badri Bahadur Khadka, chief of Health Office Kathmandu, told the Post. “Only a limited number of doses are left now, which we will administer on Friday.”
The Immunisation Section under the department had supplied 160,000 doses of the Vero Cell vaccine to Kathmandu district based on the population estimate of the district. The demand estimate, apparently, was way off the mark.
“Demand for the vaccine is very high and we were provided limited doses,” said Khadka.
Along with people aged 55 and above, teachers, university teachers, drivers and helpers serving in public transport, as well as journalists, health workers and essential workers, who were left out in the previous phases, were in the target group.
Besides, migrant workers were also to get the Chinese Sinopharm vaccines although stakeholders, including the Ministry of Labour and Social Security and the Ministry of Health and Population have said that the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine would be more appropriate for them.
Like in Kathmandu, most of the districts throughout the country, including Lalitpur and Bhaktapur in the Valley, have either limited number of doses or run out of them altogether.
“Districts which have started immunisation late have vaccines but those who started on Tuesday have either used up the vaccine or have limited doses,” Dr Jhalak Gautam, chief of National Immunisation Programme of the Department of Health Services, told the Post. “We do not have vaccines at our central and provincial storage.”
According to him, all the available stock was sent to the 77 districts.
The Ministry of Health and Population had resumed the vaccination drive after a Nepal Airlines plane brought 800,000 doses of the vaccines from Beijing, China on July 9.
Nepal has purchased 4 million doses of BBIBP-CorV vaccine developed by an affiliate of the state-backed pharmaceutical giant Sinopharm under a non-disclosure agreement and delivery would be in a phased manner.
Gautam said that for the supply of additional doses in the districts, the Health Ministry needs supply of additional doses from China.
However, a flight scheduled for Thursday to get the second shipment from Beijing has been deferred, after the supplier informed that vaccines are not ready for export, an official of Nepal Airlines told the Post on condition of anonymity.
Flights are now scheduled for July 21, 22 and 24, according to Nepal Airlines.
The reason for the high demand for vaccination is because of the devastation the second wave has caused in which around 6,400 people throughout the country have lost their lives and hundreds of thousands have been infected, authorities said.
“Those who were hesitant in the first and second phases of the drive are seeking vaccination,” said Gautam, chief of the National Immunisation Programme.
Nepal began the first phase of the vaccination drive on January 27 and the second phase between March 7 and 15 for people aged 65 and above.
The elderly are yet to get the second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine as the Serum Institute of India delivered only 1 million of the 2 million doses Nepal paid for. India banned the export of vaccines after the country suffered from the second wave in April.
With uncertainty over the delivery from the Serum Institute, the over 65s will most likely be given the second dose from the 1.6 million doses that Japan is providing under the World Health Organization-backed COVAX facility. However, it is not clear when the vaccines will arrive in Nepal, according to the Japanese Embassy in Kathmandu.
Meanwhile, according to Khadka of the Health Office Kathmandu, health agencies under his office will administer the Johnson & Johnson vaccine from Monday to people between 50 and 54 years. Provided by the United States under the COVAX facility, the vaccines arrived in Nepal earlier this week.
“But immunisation with the Vero Cell vaccine will be halted until additional doses of vaccines are supplied from the Department of Health Services,” said Khadka.
Nepal already lags far behind in immunisation compared to other countries, despite being among the first countries to start Covid-19 vaccination.
According to the latest data made available by the Ministry of Health and Population, 2,621,476 people have received their first doses so far. Of them, 1,108,868 have been fully vaccinated.
The latest confusion among the people is not the first sign of failure of Nepal’s vaccination programme.
When Nepal received 1 million doses of Vero Cell vaccines in a grant from China in June, the government initially decided to vaccinate all those between the ages of 60 and 64. But a day before vaccination was to begin it changed the criteria to include those between 60 and 64 in Kathmandu Valley but those between 62 and 64 in the rest of the country.
Besides proper communications, doctors as well as public health experts are concerned about the equitable distribution of vaccines, as only those aware of the immunisations have been taking the shots since the first phase of the drive.
“Although all eligible people for vaccination have the right to be inoculated, authorities should ensure equitable distribution,” Dr Sarad Onta, a public health expert, told the Post. “People, who are aware of the vaccination and could use influence, are getting vaccines. Others who are at high risk should also be ensured equal opportunities to get inoculated.”
The government has decided to inoculate 72 percent of the 30 million population, as 28 percent are under 14 years of age. However, less than 4 percent of the total population has been fully vaccinated so far.
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 as there is also the risk of a third wave of infections.
“Authorities should work to speed up vaccination and continue efforts to secure more doses, as we need not administer vaccines to millions of people,” Dr Bhagwan Koirala, chairman of Nepal Medical Council, the national regulatory body of medical doctors, told the Post.