Nepal government halts vaccination campaign amid alarming rise in COVID-19 cases

Nepal government has halted its nation-wide vaccination program until further notice amid an alarming rise in daily new COVID-19 cases.

The Ministry of Health and Population recorded 5,706 new cases on Saturday, including 19 deaths.

Of them, 2,495 are from Kathmandu valley — 1,932 from Kathmandu, 355 from Lalitpur and 208 from Bhaktapur.

The government halted ongoing vaccination drive on April 29 without citing any reasons for the disruption.

A day before that, China-made Vero Cell vaccines were being administered to everyone between the ages of 19 and 59 from various hospitals in Kathmandu.

China had provided 800,000 doses of its Vero Cell vaccine to Nepal Government as a grant, following which Nepalis started to receive the jab from April 7.

Nepal has also run out of the India-made Covishield jabs as the southern neighbor imposed a temporary ban on vaccine export amid shortage for Indian citizens and sharp rise in daily cases.

According to the Department of Health, more than six percent of Nepal’s population has received the first dose of anti-COVID vaccine.

Head of Vaccination Division at the Department Dr. Jhalak Sharma Gautam said that 2,091,000 people have been inoculated with the first doses of Covishield and Vero Cell vaccines.

The government had launched nation-wide vaccination campaign from January 27 after receiving one million doses from India as a grant.

Despite an agreement by Nepal government with the Serum Institute of India to buy two million vaccines, the company has provided with only one million doses as of yet.

India has stalled the export of remaining one million from the purchase agreement as it is struggling to inoculate its own citizens amid vaccine shortages and record high death rate.

An Indian English daily, The Hindu, quoted a senior Indian foreign ministry official as saying that it would take another two months to resume vaccine exports to neighboring countries.

Over 90 developing nations, including Nepal, rely on India, home to the Serum Institute, the world’s largest vaccine maker, for the doses to protect their own populations, but India has now prioritised its own needs as a second wave of the epidemic there has run out of control.

Additionally, the Indian Army had provided 348,000 doses to the Nepal Army for internal use.

A total of 2.348 million Covshield vaccines have arrived in Nepal from India so far.

Nepal has also received 348,000 doses of Covishield under the Covax facility.

According to Dr. Gautam, as many as 1,819,436 people have been inoculated with the first dose of Covshield vaccine. Of them, a total of 332,000 have also received the second dose.

Similarly, 271,564 people have taken the first dose of Vero Cell. The government has targeted to vaccinate 400,000 people with Vero Cell.

Nepal gave conditional approval on April 20 for the emergency use of the Russian Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine as the country recorded the highest daily increase of infections in four months.

Nepali government is grappling to contain the rapid rise of COVID-19 cases with experts fearing that thousands of people in the country have caught the more infectious mutant strains emerging out of India.

Hospitals are inundated with coronavirus patients requiring intensive care and ventilators.

“This time even children and young people are brought in critical condition and patients are even sleeping on the floor and corridors,” said Prakash Thapa, a doctor at Bheri Hospital in Nepalgunj.

On Friday, the Ministry of Health and Population had said that the health system was unlikely to sustain the frightening rise in the number of coronavirus cases in the country.