Only 8.5% of Nepal’s 30 million people have received the first dose of vaccines, and just 2.4% have got both shots. Over 300,000 elderly people above 65, mainly in the rural areas, have yet to receive even their first dose. This week, Lalitpur municipality is inoculating people above 77 with second doses from a leftover stock.
“Many elderly Nepalis are waiting for their second doses of Covishield, but a lot more have not even got the first dose of Chinese VereoCell because of inadequate response from the government,” says Krishna Murari Gautam of the non-profit, Ageing Nepal. “The elderly who have got both doses tend to be from privileged and affluent sections of society.”
Aside from vaccines, the pandemic and the nationwide lockdown has been most challenging for the elderly, who are living alone or only with their partners. Apart from the fear of the coronavirus, many have other pre-existing ailments.
In Biratnagar, Sita Kafle and her husband Mukesh*, both in their sixties, showed Covid symptoms last year. Sita’s symptoms were mild but Mukesh, who is a liver patient, recovered after much difficulty. Their only daughter lives in Australia, but was unable to come home due to the travel ban. Neighbours and relatives helped out.
“We couldn’t go out since both of us had the virus. It was difficult,” recalls Sita. Once they recovered, both got vaccinated with Covishield but like Pradhan, they are also awaiting the second dose.
Before the pandemic, the couple used to travel to India every three months for Mukesh’s follow-up at a hospital there. But as the second wave gripped India, they had to get checkups in Biratnagar. But even that has not been possible now because of the lockdown.
“It is very risky,” says Sita. “For now, we are in regular contact with the doctor. But if something happens, things are going to be very tough. We would have felt safer with the second dose.”