Government doesn’t have Covid boosters for people going abroadHundreds of youths leaving the country seek booster doses every day. Officials say Covid jabs are being given from seven health centres in Kathmandu.
As the health authorities throughout the country started administering Pfizer BioNTech’s bivalent Covid vaccine, hundreds of youths going abroad have started seeking booster doses.
Officials at the Ministry of Health and Population, however, said the government does not have vaccine doses for those going abroad.
“We cannot administer second booster shots to those going abroad for studies or employment,” said Dr Roshan Pokhrel, secretary for the Ministry of Health and Population. “Vaccinated people going abroad do not need second booster shots. They have to produce only negative reports of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.”
After the COVAX facility, a UN-backed international vaccine-sharing scheme, delivered around 1.3 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech’s bivalent Covid vaccine to Nepal, health authorities started giving second booster shots to certain priority groups.
Pregnant women, those having compromised immunity, people suffering from chronic diseases and those above 55 years of age have been designated as priority groups for the bivalent Covid vaccine in the first phase.
“A large number of youths planning to leave the country for further studies have been seeking second booster shots,” said Basanta Adhikari, chief of Health Office Kathmandu. “Until the Health Ministry decides otherwise, we cannot compromise on the priority list and vaccinate those going abroad.”
The Health Ministry officials said once sufficient doses arrive, all people above 12 years will be jabbed with the bivalent vaccine. The Health Ministry has stopped Covid vaccination for the last several months. Authorities in the past administered Janssen’s Covid jabs to those going abroad.
Officials at the Health Office Kathmandu said that Pfizer-BioNTech’s bivalent Covid vaccine is being administered from hospitals of the Nepal Army, the Armed Police Force, Bir Hospital, Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital, Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital and Civil Hospital. Officials said the jabs are also being administered from the central office of the Nepal Red Cross Society.
Pfizer-BioNTech’s is the only bivalent jab that has got an emergency use authorisation from the drug advisory committee in Nepal.
The bivalent Covid vaccine includes a component of the original virus strain as well as a part of the Omicron variant to provide a broad protection against Covid.
The vaccine is called bivalent Covid-19 shot as it contains two components—original virus strain and Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 sub-variants. Doctors say a bivalent Covid vaccine may also be referred to as an “updated” Covid vaccine booster dose.
Health officials said the bivalent vaccines are part of the 9.2 million doses promised to Nepal by COVAX. The facility has supplied more than three million doses so far.
Nepal has so far used Covid vaccines developed by the University of Oxford and the pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca, manufactured in various countries of Europe, India and Japan; the Chinese Vero Cell; and the US-made Janssen, Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech and its bivalent form.
As many as 12,020 Covid-related deaths have been reported in Nepal, according to the official count. As many as 223.24 million people, or 76.5 percent of the total population, have been fully vaccinated, according to data from the health ministry.