Kathmandu, June 7: The government’s drive to inoculate the senior citizens aged above 65 years began on March 7. ‘Covishield’ vaccine, which is developed by AstraZeneca, University of Oxford and produced by Serum Institute of India, was administered to the senior citizens. However, the government halted the campaign a few days later due to the shortage of Covishield vaccines. Since then, fearing the infection of the virus as the daily number of infections has not gone down notably, the elderly people have been waiting for the second dose of vaccine against COVID-19 anxiously. “When we got our first jab, we had been told that the second dose would be administered within eight to 12 weeks. I got vaccinated on March 9 and 12 weeks is about to pass, but the government has not announced any schedule for vaccinating us,” said Hira Dutta Poudel, 70, who hails from Baneshwor. Poudel said, “As we senior citizens fall in the vulnerable group, it would be a great relief if the concerned authority would manage to provide us the vaccine within the given time.” Like Poudel, Durga Pokharel, 72, has also been waiting for her second dose. “I got vaccinated on the first day of the government’s inoculation campaign. As we all had lived in fear of COVID-19 for one year, I was very happy that the nation had managed to provide vaccine to us within a short period of time.” However, delay in providing the second dose and uncertainty as to when she would be inoculated with a second jab has left Pokharel worrying. “I often hear on television that those who had received a full dose of vaccine against the virus have not become severely ill from the infection. As we elderly already suffer from various diseases, the virus infection might as well be fatal for our age group,” said Pokharel, requesting the government to address the aged people’s concerns and inoculate them as soon as possible. Meanwhile, the government has been using its entire means to procure or import vaccines at the earliest so that all the citizens including the old aged groups could
be immune from the increasing threat of the pandemic. Dr. Shyam Raj Upreti, coordinator of COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Committee, said, “The nation has been trying to import vaccines from everywhere. We have also been following up on the one million doses of Covishiled which the government bought from India. However, as India itself has been hit hard by the pandemic and is in the middle of its largest vaccination campaign, delivery of vaccines from India is all but uncertain for now.” “Also, the President has written to her counterparts in various nations seeking aid in making vaccines available for the country. In response to her letter, the USA has also committed to providing some amount of vaccines to Nepal under the COVAX facility. As soon as we receive the aid, we will start providing the second dose to those aged above 65,” he said. Dr. Upreti added that even though the government had been informed that vaccines under the COVAX facility were supposed to be provided by the end of May, the availability of the vaccines is still uncertain. “Administering the second dose to the senior citizens is now our first priority. Thus, as soon as we receive Covishield from India or vaccines manufactured by AstraZeneca from any other nation, we will immediately begin the vaccination campaign,” said Dr. Upreti, adding that till then, the senior citizens must continue abiding by all the health and safety standards to prevent infection. Dr. Rabindra Pandey, a public health specialist, said that the government must continue making efforts to procure vaccines in order to keep the elderly people safe. “Procedures have begun to import vaccines from the UK and the USA. The vaccines provided by the UK can be administered as a second dose to senior citizens. Hence, the government should keep following up on it,” said Dr. Pandey, adding, “Moreover, studies have shown that those who have received first dose AstraZeneca-developed vaccine can be immune if they are inoculated again with the single-dose vaccine made by Johnson and Johnson (J&J).” “Therefore, the government must consider other alternatives like importing J&J vaccines from other nations,” he added. Dr. Pandey further said that the single dose of Covishield was also 30 to 60 per cent effective. “The first dose develops antibodies and the second dose acts as booster. Senior citizens who had received the first dose who contracted the virus in the second wave did not face serious health issues,” he said. He added, “Also, the latest researches have stated that second dose of AstraZeneca vaccine can be administered within 12 to 16 weeks after receiving the first dose.” “Hence, the senior citizens should not worry about the second dose yet but they need to follow public health protocols. On the other hand, the government should weigh alternatives to Covishield so that the elderly group can be vaccinated soon,” Dr. Pandey said.