Migrant workers to get J&J or Vero Cell vaccine based on departure dateThe government first decided to give them Vero Cell jabs. After concerns from stakeholders, it decided to give the single-dose Janssen, but there aren’t enough doses.
Ad-hocism in the administration of Covid-19 vaccines continues.
This time it concerns jabs for migrant workers.
The government has now decided that they will be inoculated with either the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine or the double-shot Vero Cell vaccine, which has to be taken at a gap of three to four weeks, depending on their departure plan.
“The government has decided to give Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine to migrant workers who have to fly within a month while others will be given Sinopharm’s Vero Cell,” said Krishna Prasad Dawadi, director-general with the Department of Foreign Employment, the central government body overseeing the labour migration sector.
Nepal received a little over 1.5 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine from the United States in grant assistance through the World Health Organization-backed COVAX facility and they arrived in Kathmandu on July 12. Authorities started administering the single-shot vaccine from June 19 in Kathmandu Valley targeting those aged 50 to 54 years as well as migrant workers among other groups. The vaccine was then subsequently sent across the country.
The Vero Cell jabs being administered to migrant workers are from among the 4 million doses that Nepal bought from China’s state-backed pharmaceutical giant Sinopharm. The vaccine has been arriving in batches and was targeted at those aged 55 to 62 years depending on their residency as well as other groups like teachers and workers in the transportation sector. And now, migrant workers are also getting the vaccine.
Nepali migrant workers set to fly within a month can take the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in their own districts and provinces by showing their passport and visa, according to Dawadi.
The Health Ministry, on Monday set up two Vero Cell vaccination centres in Kathmandu Valley—at Nepal Police Hospital and Nepal Army Hospital—for migrant workers and students going abroad.
But the Health Ministry itself is not aware of how many doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are in stock and in which districts, as they have been dispatched to various districts across the country, according to Dr Jhalak Gautam, the chief of the National Immunisation Programme.
“Some districts have not yet started administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine while many have already started and some have even finished administering,” Gautam told the Post.
While the chief secretary has instructed the Health Ministry to make arrangements for administering both the vaccines to migrant workers, according to Dawadi, he himself is not happy about the government decision.
Administering the double-dose Vero Cell would bring back hassles for migrant workers which were minimised with the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Dawadi said.
“Giving Vero Cell to migrant workers again adds challenges for migrant workers. We had been raising this matter, but the authorities did not listen to us,” said Dawadi. “It is understandable that the stock of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine is limited. But at the same time, the number of Nepalis going on foreign employment is also smaller these days. Therefore, it would be better if they were administered with Johnson & Johnson jabs now. Later, more vaccines could be arranged for these workers.”
With the decision to give Vero Cell to migrant workers the problem is back to square one, he said.
The number of migrant workers has indeed fallen in the last one year.
The number of outbound workers had slowed down during the second wave of the pandemic-led restrictions period since April-end. In the first 11 months of the last fiscal year, the number of new Nepali workers taking approval for foreign employment decreased by 59.9 percent and those renewing their approvals by 47.1 percent compared to the same period in the year 2019-20, according to Nepal Rastra Bank data.
Migrant rights activists and organisations then urged the government to prioritise vaccination for outbound migrants. The government initially decided to provide Vero Cell jabs to migrant workers.
But the plan to inoculate them with the Chinese vaccine meant Nepali workers would need to wait for a long time before flying and this was deemed impractical and added more complications than solving their vaccination woes as two doses are needed.
Besides, not all destination countries accept the Chinese jab.
Last week, the government finally agreed to give migrant workers the single-shot vaccine. But that was not the end of their troubles. Those who got the Johnson & Johnson jabs had to line up for getting official vaccination certificates, which are mandatory in labour destination countries.
“Such haphazardly introduced rules are only making things difficult for migrant workers and recruiting agencies,” said Sujit Kumar Shrestha, general secretary of the Nepal Association of Foreign Employment Agencies, an umbrella body of privately-run recruiting agencies involved in hiring and supplying Nepali migrant workers to foreign employers. “At first, there were no vaccines for migrant workers. When vaccines were allocated, it was not the appropriate one as per their need. Then they had to go through a terrible ordeal for vaccination certificates.”
Shrestha pointed out that administering Vero Cell will once again make things complicated for migrant workers.
“During our discussion with government authorities and officials concerned, they had told us that around 100,000 single-shot Johnson & Johnson jabs would be set aside for migrant workers. In such a scenario, a large number of migrant workers could get jabs within a month,” said Shrestha. “But now it seems they have run out of the vaccine. The way bureaucrats have been making decisions is difficult to understand.”
But Health Ministry officials point out there simply are not enough Johnson & Johnson jabs as students travelling abroad are also being prioritised for the US vaccine.
“We had limited doses of Johnson & Johnson jabs and we distributed them proportionally to all provinces,” said Gautam of the National Immunisation Programme. “To address the problems of the migrant workers and students going abroad for studies we decided to administer it to them as well. But what we should not forget is that we cannot provide Johnson & Johnson vaccines to all of them.”