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US doses arrive as Nepal struggles to vaccinate population

US doses arrive as Nepal struggles to vaccinate population

A shipment of 1.5 million doses of Johnson and Johnson vaccine donated by the United States has arrived in Nepal, which is struggling to inoculate its population against the coronavirusBy BINAJ GURUBACHARYA Associated PressJuly 12, 2021, 9:46 AM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleKATHMANDU, Nepal — A shipment of 1.5 million doses of Johnson and Johnson vaccine donated by the United States arrived Monday in Nepal, which is struggling to inoculate its population against the coronavirus.“Today’s delivery of the single-dose vaccine means that this single donation is enough to protect over 1.5 million people in Nepal,” U.S. Ambassador Randy Berry said at Kathmandu airport.The U.S. is also donating vaccines to several other Asian countries, including Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.Health Minister Krishna Gopal Shrestha said the shipment, obtained through the U.N.-backed COVAX vaccine facility, would be given to people between the ages of 50 and 54.Though situated between India and China, which are among the biggest producers of vaccines, Nepal has been struggling to obtain doses.It began its vaccination campaign in January, but less than 3% of its population has been fully inoculated. The campaign stalled after India was hit by a devastating coronavirus outbreak and cut off exports of Indian-made vaccines, including 1 million doses which Nepal had already paid for.Since then, China has donated 1.8 million doses of Sinopharm vaccine and is selling Nepal about 4 million more doses this month.Nepal faced its own coronavirus outbreak in April which prompted authorities to impose a two-month lockdown. That brought down the number of cases, but an easing of restrictions now is raising concern about a new outbreak with so few people vaccinated. Thousands of people also cross the border with India every day without health checks to seek work there or return home.There are official checkpoints on the main routes across the 1,800-kilometer (1,125-mile) border, but it is easy to walk across much of the unguarded portion.“We are very likely to be hit by a third wave of COVID-19 because we have a very porous border and only a small number of people have received the vaccine,” said Dr. Rajan Pandey of Bheri Hospital in the border city of Nepalgunj, 360 kilometers (225 miles) southwest of the capital, Kathmandu.In May, the city was the first in Nepal to be hit by the new outbreak and the hospital was overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases. Patients lined up outside its doors and many were turned away or treated in ambulances or in corridors. Even doctors and nurses fell sick.

AP Interview: Official says Nepal desperately needs vaccines

AP Interview: Official says Nepal desperately needs vaccines

Nepal’s health minister says the country has significantly reduced coronavirus infections after its worst outbreak but is in desperate need of vaccinesBy BINAJ GURUBACHARYA Associated PressJune 17, 2021, 2:24 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleKATHMANDU, Nepal — Nepal has significantly reduced coronavirus infections after its worst outbreak, which overwhelmed the country’s medical system, but is in desperate need of vaccines, its health minister said Thursday.“We have gone down from the red stage to the yellow stage, but are not yet able to reach the green zone,” Health Minister Sher Bahadur Tamang said in an interview with The Associated Press. “We are working very hard to get us there.”Nepal has been under lockdown since April after new cases and deaths spiked following a massive outbreak in neighboring India.Close to 10,000 new cases and hundreds of deaths were reported daily in mid-May, when the surge was at its worst. There was an acute shortage of hospital beds, medicines and oxygen for patients.In the capital, Kathmandu, doctors treated patients in hospital corridors, verandahs and parking lots, and ambulances were turned back due to a lack of space. There were long lines at oxygen plants to fill cylinders.After weeks of lockdown, the situation has improved. The number of new cases on Thursday was 2,607 along with 39 deaths, according to the Health Ministry.Nepal launched a vaccination campaign in January but was forced to suspend it after India halted exports of domestically produced AstraZeneca vaccines because of its own outbreak. China then donated 800,000 doses of Sinopharm vaccine in March and another 1 million earlier this month.Still, only about 8.5% of the population has received one shot and about 2.5% have been fully immunized.“The main issue for us is vaccines, and unless we get vaccines we cannot say everyone is safe,” Tamang said. “We have been appealing to all countries manufacturing vaccines to please provide us with some.”About 1.4 million elderly Nepalese received an initial dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine in March but now are unsure when they can get a second dose as the government struggles to acquire the vaccine.Tamang said the government has set aside funds to purchase vaccines, and both the World Bank and Asian Development Bank are providing money as well, so funds are not currently a problem.COVAX, the U.N.-backed project to supply vaccines to poor regions of the world, pledged Nepal 2 million doses by March but has only provided 248,000 because it also is facing a serious shortage.“We were supposed to get vaccines from the COVAX facility, but we feel like we have fallen to the lowest priority position on their list,” Tamang said.He said new regulations have been adopted to allow any vaccine producer to come to Nepal to run vaccine trials, and if possible produce them, with all fees waived.With the emergency phase now over, the country needs to focus on improving its medical facilities and equipment to prepare for future disease outbreaks, Tamang said.He noted that Nepal has received planeloads of emergency supplies such as oxygen cylinders, oxygen concentrators, face masks, gloves and other medical goods from the United States, the United Kingdom, China, Switzerland and Australia.“We are very thankful to all the donors who came to help us in our time of need but now we are urging the donors to please give us ICU beds, ventilators, X-ray machines and equipment to test for other diseases too,” Tamang said.