Nepal will obtain enough vaccines to immunise all adults against COVID-19 by mid-April and is focusing on getting doses into remote mountainous areas of the Himalayan nation, says the health minister.
The government will hire workers and set up vaccination centres to meet the target, Health Minister Birod Khatiwada told The Associated Press in an interview on Wednesday.
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“We are going to meet our target or even exceed our goal because we are already getting enough vaccines,” said Khatiwada, who was appointed last month.
“We are going to hire more health workers so they are able to reach all remote corners of the country and set up new vaccine centres to reach all the population.”
Nepal’s immunisation campaign began in January with vaccines donated by neighbouring India but stalled when India faced a devastating surge of COVID-19 and halted vaccine exports.
Health ministry records show 44 percent of Nepal’s adults have received at least one dose, and 37.5 percent are fully vaccinated.
Adults comprise about 72 percent of Nepal’s population of 30 million.
So far, only people over age 18 have received vaccines, but the country plans to immunise those 12 to 17 when doses are available.
With the disruption to vaccines from India, China stepped in, selling millions of doses. Nepal also received vaccines donated by the United States through the United Nations’ distribution facility COVAX.
Still, shortages have continued in Nepal all year, and when vaccine centres have opened, they have been overwhelmed with crowds of people seeking to be immunised.
Khatiwada said about 22 million doses have been administered and he expects another 30 million doses to arrive in the next few months.
“The Cabinet this week approved a proposal to purchase 6 million doses of Pfizer vaccine from the United States while we are getting another 4 million Moderna vaccines,” Khatiwada said, adding another 6 million doses were already purchased from China.
China has offered another 2 million vaccines as a gift, while Switzerland is giving a half-million doses.
“We are not going have shortages of vaccines anymore, but our main concern and focus now is on getting these vaccines to all corners of the country, including the remote mountain areas,” he said.
Nepal faced its worst crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic in April when hospitals were crowded with patients treated in garages and parking lots, and people waited in long lines for oxygen cylinders.
The government has imposed several lockdowns and has faced repeated criticism for its handling of the situation.
Nepal has reported more than 815,000 cases of the coronavirus and 11,460 deaths.