Nepal’s 1.4 million elderly people wait for the second dose of vaccines, but to no avail

A woman receives a jab of ‘Covishield’. (File photo/Nepal Live Today)

Ashim Neupane

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Kathmandu: In Chandagiri Municipality, a Maharjan couple in their early 70s got the first jab of Covishield vaccine in mid-March. More than three and a half months since getting jabbed, the couple has been unable to get the second dose of the vaccine.

“When my grandparents were administered the first dose, I was told that the second dose will be provided after four weeks. But it has been more than three and a half months, there are no signs of them getting vaccinated,” said Ashish, grandchild of the Maharjan couple.

The Maharjan couple is even scared to go out for a walk. “Before the Covid-19, they used to go on a walk every morning. It’s been more than a year since they went on a walk. They just pass their time watching television and by talking to relatives on a video call,” added Ashish.

The Maharjan couple is among 1.4 million elderly people aged above 65 who received their first doses of the vaccine in March. Those getting the first jab were supposed to get their second dose within 12 weeks, but the booster dose is still uncertain for elderly people.       

After the government of India refused to send a million doses of vaccines, which Nepal had already paid for, 1.4 million elderly people are deprived of getting the second dose of Covishield.

Those getting the first jab were supposed to get their second dose within 12 weeks, but the booster dose is still uncertain for elderly people.

As the supply of vaccines is delayed, the government decided to widen the gap between the first and the second doses from 12 to 16 weeks. Even though the gap between the two doses is widened, the government still has no clue how to administer them the second shot.

After India refused to send vaccines, the government planned to administer the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to those getting the first dose of Covishield vaccine. It had planned to bring the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine through the Covax facility of the World Health Organization. The Covishield vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India is jointly developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca–a British-Swedish pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical company.

Earlier, Nepal requested the European Union and several European countries to provide the AstraZeneca vaccine. But, in a recent meeting with journalists, the EU clarified that supplying vaccines to Nepal was only possible through the Covax facility. This means, European countries will not send vaccines to Nepal directly.

According to Dr Tara Pokharel, director at the Family Welfare Division of the Health Ministry, the government has planned to vaccinate the elderly population with AstraZeneca vaccine to be received through the Covax facility. “We have asked the WHO to send 1.5 million doses to Nepal. The WHO has said it will provide vaccines by the end of July,” said Dr Pokharel. 

However, the Covax facility has decided to provide a million doses of Johnson and Johnson vaccine to Nepal within a month. This means, the AstraZeneca vaccine through the Covax facility is still uncertain.