Authorities fail to boost vaccination rate even as coronavirus cases surgeExperts say instead of making efforts to bring more people to vaccination centres, bureaucratic hassles have been put in place depriving many of jabs.
On Friday, the Health Ministry put out a statement saying 24 Omicron new cases had been confirmed in the country. It “urged” all to follow safety protocols. The number of Covid-19 cases stood at 968 that day.
On Wednesday, 3,075 people tested positive for Covid-19—2,448 in 9,051 polymerase chain reaction tests and 627 in 3,985 antigen tests. Infections have spiked.
In the last six days, there, however, has been no particular statement from the Health Ministry on the rising number of cases and the evolving situation. The daily update provided by it shows the vaccination pace too has remained woefully slow.
If the past seven days’ numbers provided by the Health Ministry are anything to go by, the number of fully vaccinated people per day is increasing just by a meagre 0.3 percentage point. This flies in the face of what the Health Ministry said on December 29—that it would vaccinate 500,000 people a day.
Earlier this week, a Health Ministry official threw up his hands when the Post inquired about the slow vaccination rate.
“Despite our maximum efforts, people are not showing up at vaccination centres. What should we do?” said the official in exasperation.
Public health experts, however, say authorities have failed to pay attention to multiple factors, some of them minor, that have led to slowing down of the vaccination pace.
Urmila Rai, 32, from Udayapur has not taken the vaccine yet because she does not have a citizenship certificate. Her husband Kalu Man Rai has a citizenship certificate but at home back in Udayapur.
“I have not applied for a citizenship certificate as yet,” Rai, who works as a labourer at a construction site in Kathmandu, told the Post. “And my husband forgot to carry his card along when we came to Kathmandu.”
Kaluman, 48, said he had gone to one of the vaccination centres but returned after he was asked to produce the citizenship card.
“I cannot go home immediately to bring my citizenship certificate,” he said.
Citizenship certificate or any other identification certificate issued by the government is a prerequisite to get the Covid-19 vaccine.
Officials may argue a copy of certificate can be produced as it can be easily asked for on the phone from anywhere, but public health experts say such rules are hindering the vaccination process.
“I don’t see any logic behind demanding citizenship certificates to administer the vaccine,” Dr Senendra Upreti, a former health secretary, told the Post. “We cannot achieve the target, if we keep making things complicated.”
According to public health experts, in the wake of sudden surge in cases, authorities should have rather come up with some effective measures so that more and more people could be brought under the vaccination coverage. On the one hand, say experts, authorities are introducing complicated rules and on the other, they have failed to launch any campaigns to bring members of the public to vaccination centres.
“Instead of removing bureaucratic hassles to increase the vaccination pace, authorities appear to be bent on coming up with rules that keep the people far from vaccines,” said Dr Bikash Lamichhane, former director at the Child Health Division. “It is impossible to meet the target if we ask for some papers like citizenship certificates to administer the vaccine.”
There could be many people who have not been able to acquire citizenship certificates for various reasons, according to Lamichhane.
“It’s out and out injustice to not administer the vaccine because someone does not have the certificate card,” he said.
The country so far received 40,387,927 doses of Covid-19 vaccines—Vero Cell AstraZeneca, Janssen, Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech.
Nepal’s current stock of Covid vaccine is about 13 million doses. So far, 11,469,678 people, or 37.8 percent of over 30 million population, have been fully vaccinated.
Some people have been deprived of their second doses because they lost their vaccination cards.
“I had taken the first dose of the vaccine in October, but I lost the immunisation card,” Bikash Adhikari from Nuwakot. “I have not been able to take the second dose.”
When Nepal managed to vaccinate 15 percent of its total population in September, the World Health Organisation’s South-East Asia office lauded the country for good management of the vaccination drive and its ability to vaccinate thousands of people in a short span of time.
Only 22 percent of the total population has been inoculated since September.
Dr Ramesh Kanta Adhikari, chairman of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee, said that experts in the committee have drawn attention of the officials concerned to the vaccination pace.
“Ask government officials why the pace is so slow,” said Adhikari.
An official at the Department of Health Services said there seems to be some issues that must be identified and fixed so as to ramp up the vaccination drive.
“We had administered measles and rubella vaccine to around 3 million children in less than a month in 2020,” said the official who did not wish to be named “The Covid-19 vaccination pace has indeed slowed down but not because we do not have capacity. It’s because of the apathy of the authorities and their lackadaisical approach.”
As the cases are rising and Omicron is posing a greater threat, doctors across the world and public health experts in Nepal have been constantly calling for increasing the vaccination pace, while taking measures to curb the spread.
More than 50 percent of Europe’s population will be infected with the highly contagious Omicron Covid-19 variant over the next two months, according to forecasts shared by a top World Health Organisation official.
Citing data from the Seattle-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at a news briefing on Tuesday, Dr Hans Kluge, WHO’s regional director for Europe, said a new “West to East tidal wave” of Omicron infections was sweeping across the region, on top of the previous Delta variant which is still prevalent.
Nepal’s major concern stems from neighbouring India, with which the country shares a long porous border.
India on Wednesday recorded 194,720 fresh Covid-19 cases and 442 deaths. India’s Omicron tally reached 4,868 on Wednesday.
Public health experts say Nepali authorities’ failure to offer regular updates on the measures and strategies is also an indication that there is a lack of plans at the micro level to deal with the virus.
“Success of any health programme depends on how effective the planning is,” Upreti, the former health secretary, told the Post. “Such plans include multiple strategies, including communication. There clearly is a lack of communication between the government and the public when it comes to vaccination.”