By Sampada A. Khatiwada Kathmandu, Apr. 29: Right after the much-awaited vaccination campaign against the novel coronavirus kicked off, the nation has been hit hard by the second wave of the pandemic. In the midst of the increasing threat of the spread of new, even more contagious and deadly strain of the virus, those who got inoculated are feeling somewhat relieved. However, people between 60-65 years of age have complained that the government had been unfair to them as they were not included in the vaccination drive.
After India provided one million doses of Covishield, a vaccine against COVID-19, the government officially began its largest inoculation campaign on January 27 under which the first priority frontline health workers were vaccinated. After providing vaccines to the health workers, a 20-day schedule was framed to vaccinate all senior citizens aged above 55 years from March 7 where those aged above 65 years received the jab on the first 10 days.
Halfway through the vaccination for elderlies, the campaign faced a standstill as the government fell short of the vaccine, leaving senior citizens aged 55 to 65 years unvaccinated. Now that the inoculation programme with Chinese vaccine for all Nepalis aged above 18 and below 60 years is ongoing, those aged 55-60 years are receiving the jab but elderlies aged 60 to 65 years are still uncertain about when would they be inoculated.
Madan Prasad Rimal, 60, said, "I feel like we belong to the age group which, despite being at high risk of the virus infection, couldn’t fall under the government's priority." "People aged 60 to 65 are also under the risk of the pandemic as the majority of them suffer from many chronic diseases. But the government is far afield from ensuring safety to us by providing vaccine," he said, adding that a lot of people of the age group were also complaining about the same. Rimal said that he didn’t get the jab even though he went to the vaccination centre twice and stood in line for hours.
Ram Prasad Khatiwada, 61, also shares the same story. "The government halted the vaccination programme for us right on the day it was supposed to start. I inquired at the Health Ministry about administering the jab to us many a time but I didn’t receive a proper answer." "I believe that we are the most 'unlucky' age group whom the government has overlooked," he said. "Even though various news reports suggest that the vaccination doesn’t guarantee that one will never contract the virus, being inoculated would boost our immune system to fight the infection. Thus, we hope that the government would take necessary actions immediately to vaccinate one of the most vulnerable groups as soon as possible."
Similarly, Dr. Rabindra Pandey, a public health expert, said that the government had done injustice to elderlies between 60 to 65 years of age by not providing them the jab. "This age group includes people who are neither severely ill nor healthy. Many of them suffer from various cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. Contracting the virus could be fatal for them." Stating that the Chinese vaccine 'Vero Cell' was being provided to people above 60 years of age too in other countries, Dr. Pandey stressed that the government must prioritise inoculating the left elderlies either with the existing Chinese vaccine or with the vaccines to be imported in the upcoming days.
Meanwhile, Dr. Shyam Raj Upreti, coordinator of the COVID-19 vaccine advisory committee, said, "The Covishield vaccine provided by India under grant assistance was not enough to inoculate elderlies aged 60 to 65 years as those aged above 65 were in first priority. Also, the use of Vero Cell provided by China has been permitted only to those falling between 18-60 years of age. This is why we couldn’t vaccinate elderlies between 60 to 65 years." Acknowledging that it was vital to vaccinate them amid the growing threat of the virus, Dr. Upreti said that the one million doses of Covishield bought from India would be available within June 2021. "As soon as the vaccines are available, we will prioritise vaccinating the elderlies who have been left out in the vaccination drive."
He added that the nation is yet to receive 13 million doses of vaccine under the COVAX facility. "We have been informed that the vaccine would be made available within 2021. Thus, as soon as the shortage of vaccines is solved, providing jab to the citizens above 60 years of age will be our top priority. Till then, I request each and every citizen to strictly abide by the public health standards to stay safe and prevent the spread of the deadly virus," he added.