Nepal asks Covax for 2.5 million doses of Covid vaccinesInfectious disease experts urge the public to follow Covid safety protocol—wear face masks, wash hands and avoid crowds.
Amid a risk of the spread of the new sub-variant of the coronavirus, the Ministry of Health and Population has requested the Covax facility for the supply of 2.5 million doses of Covid vaccine.
Officials said that the Covax facility, the United Nations-backed international vaccine-sharing scheme, has agreed to provide the required number of vaccine doses, but the date of supply is yet to be confirmed.
“We will request Covax for early supply of the vaccine doses if our demand and uptake of the vaccine rise,” said Dr Abhiyan Gautam, chief of the Immunisation Section at the family Welfare Division under the Department of the Health Services. “But despite the rise in risk level and our request to the risk groups to get inoculate, the vaccine’s uptake has not yet increased.”
Nepal on Monday confirmed the spread of the JN.1 sub-variant of the coronavirus in the country.
Of the 16 swab samples on which whole-genome sequencing was carried out at the National Public Health Laboratory, the JN.1 sub-variant was detected in seven samples, which is around 44 percent of the total.
Whole-genome sequencing is a comprehensive method of analysing the entire DNA sequence of an organism’s genes. Researchers believe that whole-genome sequencing of the coronavirus could be instrumental in tracking the severity and properties of the virus.
The World Health Organisation classifies JN.1 as a separate ‘variant of interest’ given its rapid spread around the globe. The UN health body, however, said that based on available data, “the additional public health risk posed by JN.1 is currently evaluated as low”.
Several countries, including China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore, have reported upticks in new coronavirus cases. The JN.1 strain, first detected in September in the United States, is a descendant of BA.2.86, a highly mutated variant of the Omicron strain of the coronavirus.
India has recently recorded a surge in new cases of coronavirus infections attributed to outbreaks of the sub-variant JN.1 in several states.
Health experts attribute the uninterrupted cross-border movement of people to the rise in cases in Nepal. Thousands of people from both countries enter each other’s territories daily on top of the large number of those using unregulated points along the porous border.
“Had we carried out gene sequencing earlier, we could have detected new sub-variants sooner,” said Dr Rajiv Shrestha, an infectious disease expert. “Even in the strict lockdown period during the first and second wave of the pandemic, the virus variant had entered the country within a month after an outbreak in India. The JN.1 sub-variant might have entered Nepal long ago.”
Experts say strict restriction in public movement is neither possible nor necessary. What is important is following the basics—wearing face masks, washing hands properly and avoiding crowds.
“Elderly people and those with weak immunity should take extra precautions,” said Shrestha. “Due to the limited stock of vaccine doses, authorities should administer the doses to those individuals who have taken only the first and second doses but not booster doses.”
Over 12,000 people died and hundreds of thousands were infected in the first, second and third waves of the Covid pandemic.
Public health measures have been lifted following the decline in the infection rate of the Omicron variant in 2021.