People were called for boosters. And they were returned without oneVaccination centres say they were not properly instructed about booster shots and they lacked time for preparations.
On Sunday, Santoshi Dhakal stood in a line for three hours at Janamaitri Hospital in Balaju to get a booster shot. She had reached the hospital for the vaccine after learning that booster shots would be administered from Sunday.
“After waiting for three hours, I came to know that booster shots will not be administered today [Sunday],” said Dhakal, who is also a nurse by profession.
“Health workers at the hospital told me that they have not received any instructions on booster shots.”
In a notice on Friday, the Ministry of Health said that booster shots would be provided to frontline workers—doctors, nurses, paramedics, lab technicians, hospital staff, female community health volunteers and ambulance drivers.
The government said boosters would be given also to journalists, bureaucrats, lawmakers, those serving in diplomatic missions, financial institutions, prisoners, people living in old-age homes and refugees, who were vaccinated in the first phase of the immunisation campaign starting January 27 last year.
Suman Tamrakar from Manamaiju had reached a vaccination centre at the New Bus Park in Gongabu for a booster dose. But after waiting in line for hours, he was told boosters were not being given.
“This crowd is so frightening,” said Tamrakar, who was spotted at the vaccination centre. “I fear getting infected,” added Tamrakar, who works in a cooperative.
Thousands of people like Dhakal and Tamrakar failed to get the boosters at various vaccination centres across the country despite the government announcing the administration of the vaccine from Sunday.
Patan Hospital, however, provided the boosters. According to the hospital administration, booster shots were provided to government employees.
Not being able to provide the boosters despite making an announcement for the same comes as yet another government failure and as an example of acute mismanagement.
In the wake of rising coronavirus cases, public health experts had long been saying that the government must start booster shots, at least to frontline workers.
Authorities refused to pay heed and waited until the third wave struck. The country is now already in the grip of the third wave, driven by Delta as well as Omicron, the super contagious new variant of the virus.
“This is sheer negligence on the part of the agencies concerned,” said an official at the Department of Health Services who requested anonymity fearing retribution for criticising the government. “They decided to provide booster shots only after the third wave started and no one was serious enough to implement the decision. The entire country and people have to face the consequences of this negligence by some officials.”
The virus has penetrated communities in such a way that almost every household has developed symptoms that resemble those of the coronavirus. Many may not have gone for tests considering the symptoms to be of a seasonal flu, but doctors say chances of people contracting the virus are nine out of ten.
Doctors have been suggesting that whoever has a sniffle, a sneeze, a runny nose or slight to high fever must go for a test.
On Sunday, of every 100 people undergoing tests at Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital, 65 returned with a positive result. The daily positive rate is too high, said Dr Manisha Rawal, director at the hospital.
Several hospitals in Kathmandu Valley, including Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital, have downsized services due to coronavirus infections among health workers, including doctors.
On Sunday, Nepal reported 4,961 new cases—4,535 in 12,562 polymerase chain reaction tests and 427 in 2,569 antigen tests. Three people died of Covid-19 in the last 24 hours.
The number of active cases stands at 25,680.
Daily positivity rate increased to 36.1 percent on Sunday from 3 percent on January 3.
People may not have received booster shots on Sunday, but there are many others who have been deprived of their first dose.
Jhapu Khadka, 37, of Pepsicola, said she had reached Civil Hospital at around five in the morning.
When the Post met her, it was almost 2pm.
“It’s been nine hours, but my turn has not come yet,” said Khadka who had come to get her first dose of the vaccine. “They have given me a token. The crowd is so big that I am afraid of contracting the virus.”
Khadka had been to the hospital on Thursday also, but returned without taking the vaccine because there was a long line.
It took seven hours for Ashok Blon, 38, from Manahari Municipality, Makwanpur, to get the vaccine at Janamaitri Hospital.
Though the hospital did not provide booster shots, it provided first and second doses to the public. But the hospital had a quota of 400 people a day.
Sabitri Upreti 46, from Chhatre Deurali in Dhading, said that she was returning home without getting the vaccine after the health workers told her the quota for the day was over.
Public health experts say that the way the government is handling the pandemic increases the likelihood of a disaster. Despite having vaccines, authorities have made a complete mess of everything, according to them.
“The government wants people to get vaccinated, and it is fixing quotas,” said Dr Senendra Raj Upreti. “It asks people to visit vaccination centres to take booster shots but fails to provide the vaccines. What kind of management is this? With this kind of approach, how is it going to deal with the pandemic?”
Nepal needs to inoculate around 27 million people of a little over 30 million population, as around 3 million are children under five years of age.
So far, 12,127,829 people, or 39.9 percent of the total population, have been fully vaccinated. Nepal has received 40,388,840 doses of vaccines as of now.
There are over five million doses of vaccines in stores throughout the country, which can be either used as first doses or booster shots. The government has more doses in stock, but they have been saved as second doses for those who have already taken their first doses.
The government has also failed in its commitment to jabbing two thirds of the total population by January 14.
Multiple officials the Post spoke to said booster shots were not provided on Sunday not because of a lack of vaccine doses but because of a communication gap.
“We got the Health Ministry’s instruction only at 3pm on Friday. Yesterday was Saturday, so we could not make a decision,” said Sambhu Kafle, chief of the Kathmandu Health Office. “We are holding a meeting with concerned local units to start booster shots from Monday.”
The Health Office Lalitpur said that booster shots were provided to government employees only on Sunday.
“Due to the lack of preparations, we could not provide booster shots from all immunisation centres,” said Ram Krishna Phuyal, an information Officer at the Lalitpur Health Office.
Hospitals in Kathmandu Valley said they did not get the instruction to start booster shots and lacked vaccine cards to mention booster shots.
“Had we got the instruction to start booster shots, we would have provided them from today,” Rawal, the director at Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital, told the Post. “As the same vaccine has to be used as booster, we don’t have any problem in administering the jabs.”
As cases have been rising, doctors and public health experts say besides enforcing measures to control the virus, vaccines are the best bet available. However, Nepali authorities’ failure to boost the vaccination drive has emerged as a cause for concern. There is a general understanding among scientists across the world that even if the vaccinated get infected with the virus, the severity—and chances of death—will be low.
A former Health Ministry official said that at a time when the government should be vaccinating more and more people, it has created a situation that discourages people from taking the vaccines.
“Authorities are troubling the people rather than helping them. On the one hand, they say the unvaccinated cannot access public amenities. On the other, they are not giving vaccines to those who are going to get them,” said the official who did not wish to be named.
Officials at the Health Ministry said that the ministry had directed the agencies concerned to start booster shots from Sunday, but local governments have to decide when to start them.
“I am also informed that most of the immunisation centres could not start booster shots today [Sunday],” said Dr Samir Kumar Adhikari, joint spokesperson for the Health Ministry. “They will start the booster shots from Monday.”
Anup Ojha contributed reporting.