As local elections draw closer, Covid vaccination rate declines furtherDoctors say authorities should focus on administering the vaccine including booster shots to as many people as possible before the election day.
As the date for local elections is inching closer, uptake of Covid-19 vaccines has declined further.
Officials at the Ministry of Health and Population said they are planning to launch a drive to administer Covid booster shots but are worried that election activities could hamper the drive.
“We have to launch a drive to increase the uptake of booster shots and are planning to do so, but we fear that the upcoming elections and pre-election activities could hinder our programme,” said Dr Samir Kumar Adhikari, joint spokesperson for the Health Ministry.
Local elections are set to be held on May 13 throughout the country at once.
With the decline in Covid-19 cases in recent months, the uptake of the coronavirus vaccine has declined significantly. Of late, more people appear reluctant to take Covid booster shots.
Also, health authorities throughout the country have currently halted Covid-19 vaccination drive to focus on the typhoid vaccination drive, which started last Friday.
As activities like meetings, political rallies, and assemblies increase in the run-up to the elections, the risk of Covid spread also grows, according to doctors. Although new cases have declined and a semblance of pre-pandemic normalcy has returned, authorities should ramp up vaccination, they said.
“New hybrid Covid variants, which are either recombination of Delta and Omicron or a new mutation of Omicron, have been dubbed as highly infectious than the previous variants have been detected in many countries,”said Dr Rajeev Shrestha of the Dhulikhel Hospital. “Even if the infection rate of the coronavirus has declined of late throughout the country, the risk has not declined, as new variants could bring a new surge at any time.”
The Election Commission had already asked the health authorities to administer Covid vaccine to all eligible people before the elections. But the government does not have a detailed record of the vaccinated population.
So far, 19,288,340 people of 66.1 percent of the total population have been fully immunised with Covid vaccine. The Health Ministry says that 2,312,375 people or less than eight percent of the total population have taken booster shots as of Wednesday.
Experts say that the coronavirus could remain forever like the flu virus in communities and people may need to administer a vaccine every year.
“Many of us have not taken the first doses, second dose and booster shots yet,” said Shrestha. “No one knows what will happen in the coming days, so we should not miss the opportunity to get vaccinated.”
Despite the government promising to administer booster shots to all those who were inoculated with a second dose of Covid vaccine three months ago, uptake of booster shots has not been encouraging.
“We have opened booster shots to everyone who took the [second dose of the] vaccine three months ago, but people are not seeking the jab,” said Sagar Dahal, chief of National Immunisation Programme. “Once the typhoid vaccination drive concludes, we will resume Covid vaccination, again.”
Dahal also admitted that the Covid vaccination programme could be affected by the upcoming local level election, as people will be more focussed in political activities during election time.
“During the elections, there will be little we can do to boost the vaccination uptake,” said Dahal, “People will be more concerned about political events than Covid vaccination. It will also not be possible to carry out immunisation drives at desired pace during the election period.”
Doctors say authorities should instead focus on administering the vaccine including booster shots to as many people as possible before the election day.
“The risk of any new possible variant of the virus will be lessened, if we can immunize our entire population with the vaccine,” said Dr Prabhat adhikari, an infectious disease and critical care expert. “Along with ramping up the vaccination drive, authorities should also pay attention to enforce safety measures.”
Many countries have been offering booster shots after three months.
Nepal started immunising people with Covid-19 vaccine from January 27 last year. Despite the initial hitch, the country managed to secure sufficient doses of coronavirus vaccines of at least six brands—AstraZeneca, Vero Cell, Moderna, Janssen, Sinovac and Pfizer-BioNTech.
Officials said that they have requested COVAX not to supply additional doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for now, to avoid storage problems.
Meanwhile, the government’s self-imposed deadline to vaccinate all eligible Nepalis ends Wednesday.