KATHMANDU: Although Nepal has been receiving a steady supply of Covid vaccines in recent months, it is now struggling to store them and inoculate more of the population due to the lack of adequate storage capacity and necessary human resources, according to officials.
As of Sunday, 32.9% of Nepal’s estimated 30 million population has been fully vaccinated, while only 50.2% of the 19.92 million population aged 18 and above has been fully vaccinated, according to the Ministry of Health and Population (MoHP).
“The level of vaccination is still low amid the Omicron threat,” according to Sher Bahadur Pun, chief medical officer at Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital.
“I have found that some older people have not been vaccinated for being unwilling to queue at vaccination centres. Some people are still not aware of the importance of vaccines against the pandemic,” he said.
Health officials acknowledged that the vaccination rate is still low and they are trying to increase the coverage.
“The World Health Organisation has advised us to increase the portion of fully vaccinated to 40% of the total population by December and we are reaching close to that level,” said Bibek Kumar Lal, director of the Family Welfare Division at the Department of Health Services. “We have also rolled out a vaccination campaign for people aged 12-17 after first vaccinating people aged 18 and above.”
Three Omicron cases have been identified in Nepal so far. Despite the potential threat, Nepal cannot double or triple the vaccination rate anytime soon, officials said.
“We have been vaccinating around 250,000 people on a daily basis. Sometimes we vaccinated as many as 350,000 people in recent days,” said Sagar Dahal, chief of the National Immunisation Program under the MoHP. “In the past, we vaccinated a maximum of 300,000 people in a day.”
The government is making efforts to expand the vaccination drive that started in the country in late January, he said.
“But we’re facing difficulty in expanding the vaccination drive due to the lack of trained human resources and logistics,” he said, adding that it also takes time to raise public awareness and create momentum for the drive.
“Due to the delayed supply of syringes, the vaccination campaigns were affected in some districts,” said Lal. “On Thursday, we received a supply of five million syringes, which will be enough for us to run a vaccination drive for a few weeks. An additional 60 million are also in the pipeline.”
By Sunday, the Covid 19 pandemic has sickened a total of 827,271 people and left 11,585 others dead in Nepal.
In recent months, the country has been reporting 200 to 300 new daily cases and a single-digit number of new deaths.
In contrast with those hard times, Nepal has an adequate supply of vaccines for now, and the government aims to vaccinate all the population by mid-April next year.
As of Sunday, the country has received 39.2 million doses of vaccines, with an additional 20 million to be supplied by February next year, according to the health ministry. The country has requested delayed shipments due to a lack of enough refrigeration facilities.
“We have a stock of about 9 million vaccine doses and the storage facility is already stretched,” said Dahal.
According to the official, the existing storage capacity may accommodate an additional 20 million vaccines only. “So we have asked the companies which are willing to supply extra vaccines to Nepal to delay the shipments till February,” he added.