• No plan in sight to quickly inoculate millions awaiting jabs • Booster shots for fully vaccinated ruled out in near future


While many countries of Europe and Americas are scrambling to deal with the challenges posed by the new variant of the COV- ID-19 pandemic known as Omicron, the Government of Nepal does not appear to be fully prepared to deal with the challenge, least of all vaccinate all of its citizens quickly.

To add to the obvious lack of clarity on the vaccination policy, a tussle of sorts has broken out within the health ministry between the political leadership and the bureaucracy on the critical issue of stockpiling vaccines to deal with the emerging health crisis.

As a result, while rest of the world is hastening with its vaccination and booster immunisation programmes, Nepal is still grappling with the tug of war between the two groups.

The country needs more than 50 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines for its estimated 31 million population, but as of now only 8,290,402 people have received both the doses of vaccines. A total of 9,543,408 people have received single dose of vaccines.

According to Assistant Spokesperson for the Ministry of Health and Population Samir Kumar Adhikari, the government has set a target of vaccinating 23,232,477 people above 12 years of age by mid-April.

Adhikari said the government had dwelt on providing booster shots to fully vaccinated people but had not reached any conclusion yet.

The government has also dwelt on vaccinating children bellow 12 years of age, but it wants to see the results of the inoculation of children below 12 years of age in other countries before starting their inoculation, Adhikari said.

If Nepal has to inoculate all its population above 12 years of age and provide booster shots to fully vaccinated people, it will need more than 69 million vaccines.

That means Nepal needs to arrange millions of doses and that too within a short span of time to deal with the new variant of COVID-19.

Minister of Health and Population Birodh Khatiwada told The Himalayan Times that the country had already imported about 25 million doses of COV- ID-19 vaccine and 35 million doses of vaccine were in the pipeline. But there is no committed delivery schedules from any of the companies as well the Covax facility.

Khatiwada said the government was also trying to procure vaccines from multiple companies, including Serum Institute of India, as per its needs. He said the government had already received two million doses of COVID vaccines from Serum Institute of India and was in the process of ordering another five million doses directly from them this week.

"We have signed the non-disclosure agreement with them for procuring additional vaccines," he said.

However Adhikari disputed the minister's statement by asserting that no vaccine will be ordered from the Indian company directly. "There is no such move," he said.

Regarding the omicron crisis, Khatiwada said the government had not yet discussed the challenges posed by the new variant of COVID-19. He said the issue would soon be discussed in the COVID-19 Crisis Management Coordination Centre meeting and in the Cabinet.

Asked if the government was fully prepared to deal with the new variant of the pandemic, Khatiwada said the government had the stocks of COVID-19 vaccines and it was in a position to supply the required number of COVID-19 vaccines to any city or province as demanded by those provinces.

He said the government had placed order for 10 million doses of Moderna/Pfizer vaccines and the supplier company would make them available in one month.

Asked if the government had the capacity to provide booster shots to those who had already received the double dose of vaccine, he said, "First of all we want to provide vaccines to all citizens by mid-April and unless we do that, we cannot think of booster shots. Maybe we can think of providing booster shots to people once we provide double doses to all the population."

A version of this article appears in the print on November 29, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.