As uptake of Covid-19 vaccines drops, Pfizer doses to be supplied on demandHealth Ministry officials say they will request COVAX to halt supply if the vaccination rate does not increase. Nepal receives over 4 million Covid-19 vaccine doses on Friday and Saturday.
As the uptake of Covid-19 vaccine has seen a downward trend across the country in the past few days, the Ministry of Health and Population has decided to supply Pfizer-BioNTech doses to the districts as per the demand and on the basis of their use.
The decision is aimed at avoiding the wastage of the Pfizer-Biotech vaccine.
Dr Surendra Chaurasia, chief of the Logistic Management Section under the Department of Health Services, said vaccine doses will go to waste if they are supplied without considering the uptake status and demand.
Nepal on Friday received 761,670 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid vaccine from COVAX, the United Nations-backed international vaccine sharing scheme.
It is a part of the 9.2 million doses the facility has committed to provide Nepal with. The Health Ministry said that COVAX will supply 1.5 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine each month until August.
“The rest of the vaccine—738,330 doses for this month–will arrive on Monday,” said Bade Babu Thapa, an official at the Logistic Management Section.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine needs to be stored in minus 80 degrees Celsius in an ultra cold freezer and can be stored in normal temperatures (2 to 8 degrees Celsius) for up to 31 days. However, after mixing with the diluent, the vaccine can be used for only up to six hours.
Officials at the Health Ministry said that only the central store in Kathmandu has the capacity to hold the vaccine in minus 80 degrees Celsius.
“Countdown starts once doses are taken out of the central store and the vaccine can be used only for 31 days,” said Thapa. Immunisation officers mix the vaccine once people come to the immunisation centre for the jabs, officials said. Each vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine contains six doses.
The Health Ministry said it has the capacity to store around 2 million doses of Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine in its central store.
“If the vaccine uptake does not increase, we will request COVAX to delay or halt shipments,” said Chaurasia, the logistic management chief.
With a decline in the coronavirus infection rate in the country, fewer people are coming forward to be jabbed against Covid-19. Only 64,347 people received the Covid-19 vaccine on Friday.
Concerns grow about the management of vaccines. Experts say for a country like Nepal every dose mattered; every dose meant saving one life. And there was a need on the part of authorities to ensure that not a single dose is wasted.
A committee formed by the government to find missing vaccine said as many as 56,908 doses of Covid-19 vaccines supplied to districts and the local level “were wasted”.
The committee found that thousands of doses of vaccines either expired or were damaged due to negligence or poor handling.
According to the report, 25,562 doses of Moderna vaccine were found to have been ruined. Of them, 14,020 doses were wasted under the watch of local governments and the remaining 11,542 damaged doses were under the watch of district authorities. Of the AstraZeneca/Covishield vaccine, 19,049 doses were ruined—7,369 at the local level and 11,690 at the district level.
On top of that, 7,023 doses of Vero Cell vaccine, 5,195 doses of Janssen vaccine, and 79 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine got ruined.
Public health experts stress that even if new cases of the coronavirus have been declining significantly, authorities should not let the guard down, as a new surge of infections could start any time.
“Authorities should focus on vaccinating all those who have not been jabbed yet and administer booster shots,” said Dr Biraj Karmacharya, an epidemiologist. “As the uptake of booster shots is very low in our country, attention should be paid to increasing the uptake of the booster shots also.”
Meanwhile, China on Saturday supplied 3,443,360 doses of the Sinovac-CoronaVac Covid-19 vaccine. It is part of the four million doses offered by the northern neighbour in grant. To bring the vaccine, the government sent a plane to China on Friday.
The Health Ministry said that the Pfizer-BioNTech doses that arrived on Friday and the Sinovac-CoronaVac shots will be used as first, second and booster doses.
Nepal has already used Pfizer vaccines on people with comorbidities and on children between 12 and 17 years.
Sinovac-CoronaVac’s will be the sixth vaccine to be used in Nepal.
So far the country has received 52,087,830 doses of various vaccines—AstraZeneca, Vero Cell, Moderna, Janssen,Sinovac-CoronaVac and Pfizer-BioNTech.
Nepal has decided to jab all eligible populations with Covid-19 vaccine by April 13.
So far, 18,916,400 people or 64.8 percent of the total population have been immunised against Covid-19.