Lawmakers get second dose of vaccine while citizens are still waiting for theirsThey didn’t pressure the government to ensure vaccines for all as they knew they wouldn’t be deprived of the second dose, says a former general secretary at Parliament Secretariat. Around 1.3m people are still waiting for second jabs.
Yadav Sharma Dhakal, 65, from Balkot, Bhaktapur, got his first dose of Covishield jab in the second phase of vaccination in early March. He was told the second dose would be administered in around two months since his first dose on March 7.
Health officials had told him to keep his ears and eyes open for a government announcement about the second dose. However, the deadline given by the officials has already passed, but there is no indication when will the government start administering the second dose.
“As far as I know from the media, the second dose is uncertain,” Sharma, a retired teacher, told the Post. “I think Nepal cannot administer the second dose of Covishield unless the situation eases in India from where the government is buying the vaccine.”
As per the government data, around 1.3 million people were inoculated across the country in the second phase from March 7 to March 15. Had the government followed its commitment, these people should have got their second dose starting May 16. However, Nepal’s vaccine stock has run out as the Serum Institute has not supplied a second consignment of 1 million doses for which it has already been paid. The government has already said that bringing vaccines from India, which has been devastated by Covid-19, is not possible at present.
Minister for Health and Population Hridayesh Tripathi has been saying that the agents who sought commission in vaccine procurement blocked its import.
Amid such uncertainty, the Parliament Secretariat on Friday started giving a booster dose of Covishield to members of the federal parliament, officials at the secretariat and the International Convention Centre New Baneshwar, aides to the parliamentarians, marshals and journalists covering Parliament.
As many as 748 persons including 190 lawmakers received the second dose of the vaccine on the first day. It will continue on Saturday and Sunday.
The parliamentarians and other staff at the Parliament Secretariat had received the first dose between March 2 and March 4, just a few days before the second phase of vaccination commenced.
According to the secretariat officials, even former lawmakers and family members of some of the incumbent lawmakers got vaccinated on the first day. “I came to know that some of the former lawmakers too got the vaccine. We didn’t recognise them as they were wearing masks,” Shreedhar Neupane, press adviser to Speaker Agni Sapkota, told the Post. “I have no idea about the family members though.”
However, an official at the secretariat said he learnt that family members of some of the lawmakers too got vaccinated. He said they could be personal assistants of the lawmakers as some of them have appointed their close relatives as assistants.
It has been around a month that Minister Tripathi has been appearing in various media and blaming the agents for obstructing the supply of vaccines. No parliamentary committee, however, has taken up the issue. The Health and Education Committee of the parliament has the responsibility to oversee health-related issues while the Public Accounts Committee can investigate financial irregularities.
However, both committees never summoned Tripathi or other Health Ministry officials to discuss the matter. Jayapuri Gharti, the chairperson of the Health and Education Committee, said her committee has directed the government at least twice to pay attention to expedite vaccination efforts.
“It is not that we haven’t directed the government to ensure vaccines for all,” she told the Post. “However, we haven’t summoned the health minister as I believe any issues related to financial irregularities are dealt with by the Public Accounts Committee.”
Gharti is among 190 lawmakers who received the second dose of the Covid-19 vaccine on Friday.
The Public Accounts Committee, on the other hand, hasn’t met for around a month now after its chairperson contracted Covid-19. Roj Nath Pandey, the secretary of the committee, said the committee hasn’t discussed the allegations of irregularities in vaccine imports as the chairperson was not well.
“I don’t see any possibility of the committee meeting as long as the prohibitory orders are in place,” Pandey told the Post.
The recent development shows the lawmakers are least bothered about ensuring vaccines for the people as they have secured enough vaccines for themselves, those closely following the matter say, adding that the present developments have proved the lawmakers are from the privileged class.
“It is clear that they used their power to get the second dose while hundreds of thousands of people are still waiting for their first doses,” Surya Kiran Gurung, former general secretary at the Parliament Secretariat, told the Post. “As they knew they wouldn't be deprived of the second dose, they didn’t pressure the government to ensure vaccines for everyone.”
Had the parliamentary committees made timely intervention, the situation would have been different, says Gurung. Neither the parliamentary committees nor Parliament took the vaccine issue seriously. The health minister wasn’t specifically questioned about the government’s plan to ensure vaccines for all when the winter session was ongoing.
He said it is the responsibility of Parliament and the respective parliamentary committees to pressure the government on vaccination. The government has to be accountable towards the people’s representatives, but it is their responsibility to ensure they take appropriate steps to hold the government to account.
“They should study the issue in detail, grill the minister and officials and issue necessary directives,” Gurung told the Post. “The parliamentary committees must have taken the issue seriously for two reasons. First, it is about saving people's lives and second, the health minister himself was claiming that there have been irregularities.”
Public health experts say as the fatalities among those who have got both doses of Covid-19 vaccines are very low, the risk of death for a large number could have been reduced had all those 1.3 million people received their second doses.
“Each citizen has as much right as the lawmakers to get their second doses,” Dr GD Thakur, a former director at the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division, told the Post. “The government should answer why the lawmakers were prioritised over others. The parliamentarians shouldn’t forget that their voters are watching.”