Covishield is being administered from 143 centres in all 77 districts, and there will not be enough for everyone in the first phase since there are 911,000 people on the Ministry of Health’s priority list of those eligible.
The ministry is readying to vaccinate 5.154 million people in the second phase, which is 17% of the target population. The priority will be those above 55 years of age, and those in the 40-54 age group with chronic diseases.
In the third phase it will be the rest of those aged 40-54 who total 2.9 million, which is 9.55% of the population. Then it will be the turn of all 12.78 million in the 18-39 age group who will get their jabs next, and they form 42% of the population. Those under 18 will not get the vaccine until safety issues are cleared up.
Gautam says that completing all four phases may take as long as late 2022, because the timetable for inoculations will depend on the availability of various vaccines in the world market. He added that all vaccines will be free to Nepali citizens will be procured through government-to-government agreements, or through the WHO-GAVI’s COVAX program.
One government sources hinted that the second phase may be complemented by an additional Indian grant of 1 million doses of the Bharat Biotech Covaxin which has been approved for restricted emergency use in India.
Just to be sure, the Ministry of Health is said to be also trying to buy 1 million doses of the vaccines from India at a discounted rate, even though Covaxin has not yet completed third phase trials and has not been approved by the WHO.
The Chinese Embassy has confirmed that the 300,000 doses of its Sinopharm vaccines will be a gift, but has not given a specific time frame. Although the Sinopharm has regulator approval for emergency use in China, Nepali authorities have not yet done so.
Covaxin is India’s first locally produced vaccine and can be stored at normal refrigeration temperature of 2-8 Celsius, which makes it even more ideal for Nepal’s conditions. The Ministry is said to be sourcing 20% of vaccines in Nepal to from Bharat Biotech. This week the Indian company signed an agreement with Ocugen to co-develop and market the vaccine in the United States.
Because of the ‘vaccine divide’ with rich countries hoarding or reserving most of the available supply, poor countries like Nepal will need to coordinate closely with the World Health Organization-initiated COVAX, the only global inter-governmental initiative working with manufacturers to ensure Covid-19 vaccines are available to developing countries. Under COVAX, Nepal is expected to get 2.25 million Covishield vaccines from India.
The limiting factor for Nepal is that the vaccines should be available, affordable, of the kind that do not need extreme refrigeration, and a cold chain not less than 20 Celsius. The government has also asked those who can afford to buy vaccines to do so, and the money will be used to buy doses for people who cannot afford the injections.
Meanwhile, there were only 171 cases of coronavirus among 2,550 that were tested on Tuesday – 78 of them in Kathmandu Valley. There are now fewer than 2,300 active cases in Nepal, and number of patients in ICU has dropped to 61, with 14 of them on ventilator support. There were two days with no fatalities this week, and two patients died from coronavirus on Thursday – bringing the total so far to 2,033.
Overseas, three more Nepalis died of Covid-19 this week, bringing the total number of reported deaths in the diaspora to 330. According to Sanjiv Sapkota of the Non-resident Nepalese Association (NRNA) 58,695 Nepalis in 50 countries had tested positive for coronavirus as of 30 January.
As a new strain of Covid-19 sweeps Europe, the NRNA has issued guidelines on safety precautions, vaccines and also its side-effects. Sapkota, who heads NRNA’s Health Committee warned Nepalis abroad that even those who have been vaccinated can still transmit the disease, so continued precaution was necessary.
The new fatalities and infections among Nepalis were reported this week from the UK, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Portugal, Nigeria. This comes even as the Covid-19 cases in Nepal continued to drop.
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