Managerial efficiency in question as thousands of Covid-19 vaccine doses are set to expireOfficials say wastage of the life-saving vaccine will be common in the coming days.
On Friday, the Logistics Management Section of the Department of Health Services held discussions with the relevant agencies in all 77 districts about the looming vaccination deadline and the nearing shelf life of vaccines.
Most of the officials reported that expiration of the Covid-19 vaccine, especially AstraZeneca doses, is inevitable, as the uptake of shots is low and a month-long typhoid vaccination drive started on Friday.
“We cannot administer both vaccines [against typhoid and Covid-19] simultaneously, as it will hamper both programmes,” an official at the Department of Health Services, who took part in the discussion programme, told the Post, asking not to be named. “The human resource employed for Covid-19 vaccination is being used in the typhoid vaccination drive.”
The meeting decided to make every effort to use the vaccines until their expiry, and agreed that wastage of thousands of doses is unavoidable now.
The Logistics Management Section refused to specify the number of vaccine doses, which have only around 20 days of shelf life, but an official said that around 1.6 million AstraZeneca shots stored in various districts across the country will expire at April-end.
“We have no stock of AstraZeneca vaccine in the central store,” said Dr Surendra Chaurasia, chief of the Logistics Management Section. “We have drawn the attention of the officials concerned to the imminent expiry and agreed to make every effort to increase vaccine uptake.”
Health Ministry officials claimed that the number of vaccine doses set to expire is not huge but conceded that expiration is obvious.
“I have inquired with officials about the number of doses. They said that the numbers are not as huge as reported in the media,” said Dr Roshan Pokhrel, the health secretary. “We have asked officials to find ways to use all the remaining doses before their expiry.”
Concerns grow about the management of vaccines. Experts say for a country like Nepal, every dose matters; every dose means saving a life. And there is a need on the part of authorities to ensure that not a single dose is wasted.
A committee formed by the government in the past to find missing vaccines said as many as 56,908 doses 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 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 Covid-19 cases have been declining significantly, authorities should not let down their guard, as a new surge of infections could start any time.
Officials at the Health Ministry hope that Covid-19 vaccination can be resumed shortly in the places where typhoid vaccination drives complete early.
Public health experts say that expiration of Covid-19 vaccines is not a good thing just because of the inability of the authorities to administer the jabs to the people.
They say that the time has come to review the management competency of the officials responsible for preventing the wastage of the precious resource.
“On no pretext is the wastage of vaccines good,” said Bhogendra Dotel, former chief of the Logistics Management Section. “As most of the population has not taken booster shots, authorities should find ways to use the vaccine before the doses expire.”
Meanwhile, the Health Ministry said that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and Sinovac-CoronaVac vaccine remain to be rolled out due to the low uptake.
On Friday, 26,045 people took coronavirus shots across the country.
So far, 19,263,737 people—or 66 percent of the total population—have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19. The government aims to jab all eligible people with Covid-19 vaccine by April 13 but only 82.8 percent of the population above 18 years has been inoculated fully so far.
Health Ministry data show that 2,301,438 people have taken booster shots.
On Saturday,13 people tested positive for the coronavirus in the country. Active cases stand at 637. No one has taken the Covid-19 vaccine in the last 24 hours.
The Health Ministry had decided to administer booster shots to all those who got a second dose of vaccine three months ago, but the decision has not been implemented yet.
“The perception that the Covid-19 pandemic is over, which is prevalent in societies and has affected many of us, is wrong in itself and risky,” said Dr Biraj Karmacharya, an epidemiologist. “Booster shots are essential and we should not forget that the booster coverage is small in our country. Authorities should find ways to boost the uptake of booster shots.”