Around 10 percent of Kathmandu residents who took the first dose of either AstraZeneca or Vero Cell vaccine have not taken the second dose within the prescribed gap.
Officials estimated that the figure was very high—until some months ago.
“Over 80,000 people who took the first dose had not taken the second dose until a few months ago,” said Sambhu Kafle, chief of Health Office Kathmandu. “But a lot of people have taken the second dose after we started supplying the vaccine regularly.”
According to Kafle around 10,000 to 15,000 people have still not sought second doses.
And what is alarming is the Ministry of Health and Population does not know the whereabouts of the people who took the first dose of vaccine but have not received the second dose. The Health Ministry does not have a database to track the people who are not seeking the second doses.
Earlier, officials at the Health Office Kathmandu had told the Post that around 40 percent of the people above 65 years old, who took the first dose of Covishield between March 7 and 15, did not seek the second dose. Health authorities had then administered Covishield doses to people of other age groups as well as college students to avoid the expiry of the jabs.
Public health experts say that authorities are unaware of the whereabouts of the thousands of people who missed the second dose.
“It is very unfortunate that we do not have detailed records of the people, who took the first dose and missed the second dose even after 10 months of the start of the vaccination against the Covid-19,” said Dr Shyam Raj Upreti, coordinator of Covid-19 Vaccine Advisory Committee.
“We have been urging the authorities concerned to maintain a proper database of the vaccinated population so that they could be tracked whenever needed.”
Health authorities provide each individual a vaccine card, which mentions the name, age, the type of vaccine and the date of administration. People have to produce the same card when they go for their second shot. The government, however, has not maintained any data entry system, hence there is no digital archive of the people who were vaccinated.
It is also suspected that some people have already taken a third dose, even though the government does not have a policy of providing a third dose or a booster shot.
“Several doctors told me that they have provided Pfizer jabs as booster shots to the people, who have already taken other Covid-19 vaccines,” an official at the Department of Health Services said, asking not to be named. “A lot of people have comorbidities— blood pressure and diabetes. So, many clever people took the booster shots by showing doctor’s prescriptions that they have been taking medicines for blood pressure and diabetes.”
Doctors say those who took a single dose only are either partially protected or not protected from the risk of Covid-19 infection, which means the government’s aim to protect the population through vaccination is not served.
Public health experts say that tracking people who have not taken their first dose and who have not sought the second should not have been a big deal had the authorities shown seriousness from the very beginning.
“When we do not have problems with childhood vaccination, and our female community health volunteers track the missing children and ensure full immunisation, why are we facing problems in adult vaccination?” questioned Dr Sarad Onta. “Had the authorities concerned paid little attention to maintaining records they could have tracked the vaccinated and unvaccinated population immediately.”
Health Ministry officials said that some people have missed the second doses but claim that their number is not very high.
“Some people may not have lived to receive their second dose and some might have gone abroad after receiving the first dose and some could have received the second dose in their respective districts after taking the first dose in Kathmandu,” said Dr Samir Kumar Adhikari, joint spokesperson for the Health Ministry.
He, however, concedes that the ministry’s existing system cannot track the people who missed the second dose.
Nepal aims to administer Covid-19 jabs to all eligible people by mid-April next year. It needs to vaccinate around 78 percent of its 30 million population—or around 25 million people, as per the government’s new plan that also includes those aged between 12 and 18 years. The government had earlier planned to vaccinate only those aged 15 years and above.
Since around 4-5 million Nepalis are said to be living abroad, around 19-20 million people need to be vaccinated. For this, the country needs a little over 40 million doses of double-shot vaccines.
Nepal launched its vaccination drive on January 27 last year, becoming one of the first countries to inoculate its population against Covid-19. The campaign was kicked off after India gifted 1 million doses of Covishield, the AstraZeneca type of vaccine manufactured by Serum Institute of India. Nepal also paid for another 2 million doses, but after supplying half of the order, Serum expressed its inability to deliver the doses citing vaccine shortage in India, which was hit by a second wave. The remaining doses were shipped only recently on October 9.
With the government failing to secure doses, the vaccination campaign was hit hard. However, the jabs started to arrive again after countries like China, Japan, Bhutan and the United States started shipping the consignments. Nepal has also received vaccine doses from the Maldives.
As of Wednesday, 11, 513 people have died of Covid-19 across the country since the pandemic began.
So far, 8,059,302 people (26.5 percent of the total population) have been fully vaccinated in the country.
Nepal has received 23,163,930 doses of Covid-19 vaccines—Vero Cell, AstraZeneca, Janssen and Pfizer-BioNTech.