New Covid booster campaign unlikely before November electionsSo far, 76.5 percent of the total population in Nepal has received two doses of Covid vaccine and around 27.5 percent has taken booster shots.
A new campaign to administer Covid booster shots is unlikely before the November general elections, as the authorities are busy with election preparations.
Many health workers who are responsible for launching the vaccination drive will be deployed on election duty, which will also affect the administration of the coronavirus vaccine, officials at the Ministry of Health and Population said.
“We don’t have any plan to launch a vaccination drive immediately,” said Dr Roshan Pokhrel, secretary for Health and Population Ministry. “Health workers will also be deployed on election duty.”
So far, 7,972,791 people, or around 27.5 percent of the total population, have taken booster shots. But many of them received booster shots more than eight months ago, so they might have already lost the immunity to Covid.
Public health experts have warned of a surge in new Covid infections in the coming days as a new-sub variant of Omicron, XBB, has been reported in the country, and the annual flu season is on the way along with falling temperatures. Covid symptoms overlap with that of flu raising the possibility of misdiagnosis.
The XBB, a recombinant lineage between two Omicron sublineages BJ.1 and BA.2.75, is considered a fast-spreading variant. The subvariant recently caused a spike in coronavirus cases in Singapore and has also been reported in India.
Moreover, no public health measures against Covid-19 are in place, which increases the risk of the virus spreading to communities before the authorities figure out ways to tame it, doctors say.
“We discussed surging new cases of coronavirus before the Tihar vacation, but no decision has been taken so far to launch a vaccination drive,” said Satish Bista, chief of the Health Office, Lalitpur. “I don’t think a new campaign will be launched before the elections.”
Nepal is scheduled to vote in parliamentary and provincial elections on November 20.
The Health Office, Lalitpur recently launched a drive to administer Covid vaccine to children between five and 11 years who missed the vaccine due to various reasons.
Experts say elderly people, those with compromised immunity, and the unvaccinated population are at high risk of getting a severe infection.
“As the coronavirus causes infections throughout the year, those with weak immunity, elderly people, and the unvaccinated are always at high risk,” said Dr Janak Koirala, an infectious disease expert. “The flu season has also started, so the authorities concerned and the public must take precautionary measures.”
After the third wave driven by Omicron, a highly contagious variant of the SARS-CoV-2, gripped the country, the Ministry of Health and Population started administering booster shots from January 17.
Frontline workers including doctors, nurses, paramedics, lab technicians, hospital staff, and ambulance drivers were provided the booster shots in the beginning. Journalists, bureaucrats, lawmakers, those serving in diplomatic missions, financial institutions, prisoners, elderly people at old age homes, and refugees who were vaccinated in the first phase of the immunisation campaign starting January 27 were also offered booster shots.
Elderly people above 60 who were inoculated with the Vero Cell vaccine and those having comorbidities were offered the shots from January 28, and later to all people who were inoculated with the second dose of vaccine six months ago.
But less than one-third of the total population has taken booster shots as of now.
Doctors say Nepal’s Covid vaccination was problematic from the beginning. Earlier, there were problems due to vaccine shortages and mismanagement. And later, despite having sufficient doses, authorities concerned failed to increase the vaccination pace.
They blamed the lethargic approach of the authorities concerned for the low uptake of booster shots and warned that taking the risk of infection lightly could prove costly to both the country and the people.
Some countries have already started providing a fourth dose of Covid vaccines and many have been providing booster shots. The health ministry had also decided to administer second booster shots to certain groups including frontline health workers and elderly people above 60 years old, but the vaccination programme has halted indefinitely due to lack of vaccine doses.
So far, 12,019 Covid deaths have been reported in Nepal, according to the official count.
The Health Ministry said 22,324,933 people or 76.5 percent of the total population have received double doses of the vaccines.