KATHMANDU, Nov 26: Although it has been said that the COVID-19 vaccine will be made available for 3 percent of the population in Nepal, it has not been specified who will be among them. The World Health Organization (WHO) is preparing to provide vaccines to 3 percent of the population in the first phase. Following which, the plan is to vaccinate 20 percent of the population by adding 17 percent in the second phase. COVAX plans to purchase and supply 2 billion doses of the vaccine to participating nations by the end of 2021.
So far, agreement with three vaccine manufacturers under the COVAX facility and others are being prepared soon. Among the agreements signed under the Covax facility, vaccines are being developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, Sanofi and GSK and the Serum Institute of India.
Under the COVAX vaccine delivery concept, the first 3 percent of the population receiving the vaccine includes people involved in the health care and social sectors. 17 percent also include adults in high-risk. The vaccine will then be made available to other age groups gradually.
Although the number of health workers in most of the countries receiving COVAX is 3 percent, the manpower working in the health sector in Nepal is only 1 percent. The government plans to make the remaining 2 percent other groups of people by defining the group in the social care sector.
In general, 900,000 people-- roughly equal to 3 percent of Nepal's total 30 million population-- will be vaccinated in the first phase. Accordingly, it is almost certain that about 300,000 people including health workers and other employees working in the public and private health sectors will be vaccinated.
Although some homework has been done at the technical level regarding the distribution of vaccines in the first phase, it is not yet clear who will be included in the remaining 600,000 that will be included in the definition of social service sector under the COVAX facility.
Experts suggest that the issue should be taken up at the technical level as soon as possible as the community is eagerly awaiting vaccination against the coronavirus. Hepatitis B vaccine was smuggled from Nepal to India until a few years ago. Therefore, coronavirus vaccine management and good governance is a sensitive issue and this aspect should not be neglected.
"Prioritization of vaccine distribution is a sensitive issue that needs to be broadly discussed and agreed upon," said Dr. Sudhir Khanal, who is Technical Officer In-charge of Immunization and Vaccines Development cluster at the WHO's Regional Office for South-East Asia in New Delhi. He said that the countries concerned could decide on their own basis regarding the issue of who should be included in the definition of social service sector.
Dr. Khanal said that a letter was sent to the Government of Nepal last week to provide detailed information regarding the operation, distribution, storage and other necessary technical assistance of the vaccine available to Nepal under the COVAX facility. Nepal needs to submit the letter by December 7.
Nepal has to make a decision in the next 10 days about this. "10 days is too short for such an important issue," said former Director General of the Department of Health Services Dr Baburam Marasini. He said that intensive homework is necessary to resolve this issue. "This issue needs discussion and consultation at all the seven provincial and national levels," he said.