Surya Lama, originally from Barhabishe in Sindhupalchok district, works as a bricklayer at a construction site in Kathmandu. His wife Karuna, who had uterine surgery a few months ago due to an infection, is recovering.
Both have not yet received vaccines against Covid-19.
“I have to work from morning to night to make a living,” said Lama, 36. “My wife couldn’t make it to the vaccination center on her own and I didn’t have time to take her to be vaccinated.”
He doesn’t know how much of a risk there will be if he’s exposed to the virus, he said.
“I have heard about this Corona and also about the vaccines,” he said, however.
Llamas appear to be some of those missing out on Covid-19 vaccines in urban centers. But there are fears that many more people in rural areas have yet to receive Covid-19 vaccines for multiple reasons, including lack of awareness, inaccessibility or due to reluctance.
When Nepal succeeded in immunizing 15% of its total population in September, the World Health Organization office for Southeast Asia commended the country for the good management of the vaccination campaign and its capacity to vaccinate thousands of people in a short period of time.
Although there were initial setbacks caused by dose shortages, the vaccination campaign continued to accelerate, as there was a constant flow of vaccines.
But lately, training seems to have slowed down.
Data provided by the Ministry of Health and Population shows that 9,582,496 people (31.5% of the total population) were fully vaccinated on Saturday.
A comparison shows that it took more than 100 days for authorities to immunize an additional 15 percent of the total population, and about 55 days to administer vaccines to an additional 9 percent of the population (from 21.4 percent on 17 October at 30.4 percent on December 11).
The vaccine shortage was not a problem, as Nepal regularly received millions of doses.
Experts say the authorities used the same strategy: asking people to go to vaccination centers set up in district health facilities at the initial stage of the campaign. Authorities are not taking any further steps to get people to vaccination centers or educate them about the need for vaccination, they say.
With storage facilities full to the brim, authorities have asked vaccine suppliers, including the COVAX facility, to delay shipments.
Public health experts say it is unfortunate that authorities have not stepped up the vaccination campaign and instead call for a slowdown in shipments.
Nepal has so far received 31,195,090 doses of Covid-19 vaccine – Vero Cell, AstraZeneca, Janssen, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, including 1,457,650 additional doses delivered Thursday from Germany.
This suggests that there are enough doses in stock to immunize just over 6 million people almost immediately.
Nepal needs to immunize about 78 percent of its estimated population of over 30 million, or about 25 million people. Given that 4 to 5 million Nepalese are believed to be living abroad, the number of people to be vaccinated is estimated to be around 20 million.
Experts say there is a need to step up vaccination and consider providing booster doses.
“Instead of asking for a delay in vaccine deliveries, the authorities should have used this window to immunize most people as soon as possible,” epidemiologist Dr Biraj Karmacharya told The Post. “Vaccinating as many people as possible could save thousands of lives. “
The Ministry of Health and Population said it was “doing its best” to vaccinate as many people as possible. Officials said they held meetings with provincial and local officials and urged them to speed up the vaccination campaign.
Health and Population Minister Birodh Khatiwada told the Post on Thursday that the vaccines will be administered at more than 16,000 centers that have been used to immunize children as part of the monthly campaign. Along with this, the government is also providing vaccination facilities in schools, targeting people aged 12 to 17.
“We are also organizing meetings with the district heads of the 77 districts of the country,” said Dr Roshan Pokhrel, secretary at the Ministry of Health and Population. “We will again ask them to do everything possible to increase coverage so that as many people as possible can be vaccinated. “
Doctors say authorities must come up with new strategies to cover as many people as possible. There could be several reasons for the slow rate of vaccination, and authorities need to find out and act on it, they say.
“Those who are aware of the importance of vaccines have accepted vaccines when given the opportunity,” said Dr Sher Bahadur Pun, head of the clinical research unit at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases and infectious diseases of Sukraraj. “The authorities did not have to work hard to immunize these people. But there could be hundreds of thousands of people who may have missed the jabs for various reasons. Some might not know… others might not know the importance of getting the vaccine.
In addition to the inconvenience of when and where to get vaccinated, some people might be reluctant to get vaccinated. The emergence of skeptics when there is a new vaccine or drug is a worldwide phenomenon.
Authorities should use all means to debunk rumors, if they spread, by sending a clear and factual message about vaccines to communities, doctors say.
“The authorities should use all possible means and people possible – teachers, women community health volunteers, health workers, social workers, national artists, politicians and political parties – to raise awareness about the vaccine and encourage people to do so. sting, ”Karmacharya said. , who is also the head of the community program department.
Stepping up the vaccination campaign and launching booster doses are common suggestions that public health experts have come up with in recent times, especially in the wake of Omicron, the new iteration of the coronavirus which is said to be highly contagious. His gravity, however, would be milder than Delta.
The World Health Organization said on Saturday that the Omicron variant has been reported in 89 countries and the number of cases is doubling within 1.5 to 3 days in areas of community transmission.
Nepal reported two cases of Omicron last month, but both tested negative for the virus later.
Dr GD Thakur, former director of the Division of Epidemiology and Disease Control, said authorities can learn from India, Nepal’s southern neighbor, as well as ways to speed up the vaccination campaign.
India’s vaccination rate was also disappointing until October. Festivities across the country were considered among the reasons for the drop in vaccination rates.
But by the end of December, it is estimated that 42% of India’s total population will be fully vaccinated. India had administered more than a billion doses of the vaccine and delivered full doses to 31% of the population in October.
“The authorities need to take a proactive approach so that as many people as possible can be vaccinated at the earliest,” Thakur told the Post. “Giving vaccines to as many people as possible is the only way to save lives. “