By Sampada A. Khatiwada Kathmandu, Dec. 6: The emergence of a new variant of COVID-19, named Omicron, has prompted considerations for distributing booster doses of anti-coronavirus vaccines in nations across the world. Following the rise in the Omicron variant, various countries including the UK and USA, have already started providing booster dose, which is the third dose of vaccine against COVID-19, to the fully vaccinated population. Although no case of Omicron has been recorded here in Nepal till today, the need for booster dose has become a matter of discussion for the government and the health specialists.
Addressing a programme in Kavrepalanchowk on Saturday, Birodh Khatiwada, Minister for Health and Population (MoHP), said that administering booster doses was vital to prevent the spread of the virus in the future. “The nationwide vaccination campaign is currently going on from 6,000 vaccination centres. We are planning to increase the centres to 19,000 by December 16,” said Minister Khatiwada, adding, “As we have a stock of 20 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, I request the fully-vaccinated population to visit the nearby vaccination centres and take the third (booster) dose.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Samir Kumar Adhikari, assistant spokesperson at the MoHP, said, “Of the 27,356,530 doses of COVID-19 vaccines which were either procured by the government or received under grant assistance or COVAX facility, a total of 17,000,000 doses have already been used and there are only 8.3 million doses in stock.” However, Dr. Adhikari added that around 35 million doses of Vero Cell,
Pfizer and Moderna vaccines would arrive in Nepal within mid-January. “As fully vaccinating the targeted population is our priority, the decision as to administering the booster dose has not been made yet,” he said.
Spokesperson at the MoHP Dr. Krishna Prasad Poudel also said that decision on providing booster dose would be made if needed. “Currently, we are focusing on inoculating everyone across the nation. Also, as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and our national COVID-19 vaccine advisory committee have not recommended booster dose so far, we are in a ‘wait and watch’ situation’,” said Dr. Poudel. Dr. Shyam Raj Upreti, coordinator at the COVID-19 vaccine advisory committee, said that it was not justifiable to provide third dose of anti-coronavirus vaccine to the already vaccinated group for now because many people had not received their first dose yet.
Similarly, the public health specialists in Nepal have been voicing that fully inoculating the entire population was vital rather than distributing booster doses to only a few groups. Dr. Sher Bahadur Pun, chief of the clinical research unit at Teku Hospital, said, “The level of antibody starts declining after six months of vaccination. Thus, taking a booster shot would again increase the antibodies.”
“However, as millions of people have yet to receive their first dose, the government should prioritise inoculating everyone first,” said Dr. Pun, adding, the booster dose could be provided only to immune-compromised people, senior citizens and frontline health workers who are at greater risk of infection on the basis of priority and availability of vaccines.
Likewise, public health specialist Dr. Samir Mani Dixit said that the nation could not be safe from the virus unless 75 per cent of the targeted population is vaccinated. “Thus, the government should mull over the administration of booster dose only after ensuring the targeted population’s access to the vaccine,” said Dr. Dixit.