Amid surge in India, Nepali officials ask at-risk groups to get Covid shots

Arjun Poudel

Published at : December 22, 2023Updated at : December 22, 2023 07:06
As India reports a surge in new cases of Covid-19 and the confirmation of a new JN.1 strain, the Ministry of Health and Population has asked vulnerable groups to get the Covid-19 vaccine.

Pregnant women, those having compromised immunity, people suffering from chronic diseases and those above 55 years of age have been designated vulnerable groups for vaccination, officials said.

“At present, Covid-19 vaccine is being administered from Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital in Kathmandu Valley,” said Dr Abhiyan Gautam, chief of the Immunisation Section of the Family Welfare Division of the Department of Health Services. “People of vulnerable groups can get inoculated if they did not get it in the past six months.”

The health ministry recently rolled out 750,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech bivalent vaccine supplied by the COVAX facility, the United Nations-backed international vaccine sharing scheme. Officials said that vaccines were delivered in the last week of November.

Gautam said that other people who are yet to take the fourth booster shot can also get inoculated with the vaccine.

“We have also asked provincial health bodies to ask for the vaccine doses,” said Gautam. “We will supply the doses as per the demand.”

Officials at the Health Ministry said that they are also in touch with the Global Alliance for Vaccine and Immunisation (GAVI) officials and informed them that the demand for the coronavirus vaccine could rise if new cases start to surge again.

With the new surge in India, infectious disease experts in Nepal said that it is just a matter of time before the virus strain enters the country.

“Earlier, we thought that a new virus from India took six to eight weeks to spread in Nepal but it does not take so much time now,” said Dr Rajiv Shrestha, infectious disease expert at Dhulikhel Hospital. “Our borders are open and the two-way movement of people is high.”

India on Thursday reported two deaths due to complications arising from Covid-19 infection and 2,669 active cases in 24 hours.

The Union Health Ministry of India said that an uptick in Covid cases has been observed in Kerala, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Karnataka.

So far India has reported 21 cases of Covid-19 sub-variant JN.1.

The World Health Organisation on Tuesday classified JN.1 as a separate ‘variant of interest’ given its rapid spread around the globe. The UN health body, however, said that based on the currently available data, “the additional public health risk posed by JN.1 is currently evaluated as low”.

Health authorities in Nepal say they are closely following developments in the southern neighbour.

Even though Nepal has not seen a new surge of coronavirus cases, surveillance measures, including testing and gene sequencing, will be stepped up in the coming days, according to officials.

Several countries, including China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore, have of late reported an uptick in new cases of coronavirus.

The JN.1 strain, first detected in September in the United States, is a descendant of BA.2.86, which is a highly mutated variant of the Omicron strain of Covid-19.

Experts in Nepal have urged the authorities to step up vigilance as they said that any virus variant or disease seen in any corner of the globe could enter the country due to the global movement of people.

With the decline in infections, all preventive measures such as wearing face masks, handwashing, and maintaining social distancing have been removed.

– The

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