Authorities mull campaign amid dismal uptake of Covid booster shotsPeople from priority groups and those aged above 55 will be administered the vaccine on March 22-24 in Kathmandu.
Health authorities in Kathmandu Valley are preparing to launch a campaign to administer second booster shots of Covid vaccine in the third week of March.
The move by health offices of all three districts—Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur— comes amid reports of a poor uptake of the second booster shots by members of priority groups.
“We have been planning to conduct a vaccination campaign on March 22, 23 and 24 in the Kathmandu Metropolitan City,” said Basanta Adhikari, chief of the Health Office, Kathmandu. “Vaccine doses will be administered in all 32 wards of the metropolis and we will also launch booster vaccination as a campaign in other local units of the Valley once the drive in Kathmandu metropolis is completed.”
The Ministry of Health and Population had started administering second booster shots some two weeks ago, after COVAX, a UN-backed international vaccine-sharing scheme, delivered 1.5 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech bivalent Covid vaccine to Nepal.
Health workers, 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 inoculation of the bivalent Covid-19 vaccine, in the first phase.
The second booster shots are being administered from district hospitals throughout the country. In Kathmandu, vaccine doses are 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 Service Hospital. The jabs are also being administered from the central office of the Nepal Red Cross Society.
Officials at the Health Office, Kathmandu concede that the uptake of second booster shots is very low.
“I don’t have the complete data of the public response to second booster shots, but it is true that the vaccine uptake rate is low,” said Adhikari.
The Health Office, Lalitpur has been planning to start a campaign to administer second booster shots on March 23 and 24 in all local units of the district.
Officials at the Health Office in Bhaktapur said they are also planning to conduct a similar campaign.
“We have asked the local health units to collect data of people of the priority groups and demand vaccine doses as per the requirement in their respective areas,” said Krishna Bahadur Mijar, chief of Health Office Bhaktapur. “A vaccination campaign will be launched once the local health offices send data of the priority groups.”
Doctors say booster shots are needed to give people an added level of protection against Covid. Several studies, including the one carried out in Nepal, show that the immunity level achieved from vaccination or natural infection wanes after six months of the vaccination or natural infection.
Public health experts blamed the lethargic approach of the authorities concerned for the low uptake of booster shots.
“The authorities concerned should not make any delay to start the vaccination campaign,” said Dr Rajiv Shrestha, an infectious disease expert at the Dhulikhel Hospital. "This vaccine also protects vulnerable populations from pneumonia and severity from other infectious diseases.”
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 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.
So far, Nepal has 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, and Pfizer-BioNTech.
As many as 12,020 Covid-related deaths have been reported in Nepal, according to the official count.