KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) – Nepal will receive enough vaccines to immunize all adults against COVID-19 by mid-April and will focus on delivering doses to the remote mountainous regions of the Himalayan nation, the health minister said Wednesday.
The government will recruit workers and create vaccination centers to achieve this goal, Health Minister Birod Khativada told The Associated Press.
“We’re going to meet our target or even surpass it because we are already getting enough vaccines,” said Khativada, appointed last month. “We are going to hire more health workers so they can reach all the remote corners of the country and create new vaccination centers to reach the entire population.”
The immunization campaign in Nepal began in January with a vaccine donated by neighboring India, but came to a halt when India faced a devastating surge in COVID-19 and stopped exporting vaccines.
Health ministry records show that 44% of Nepal’s adults have received at least one dose and 37.5% are fully vaccinated. Adults make up about 72% of Nepal’s 30 million people. So far, only people over 18 have received vaccines, but the country plans to immunize people 12 to 17 when doses become available.
With the cessation of vaccine supplies from India, China intervened, selling millions of doses. Nepal also received vaccines donated by the United States through the UN COVAX distribution center.
However, vaccine shortages in Nepal persisted throughout the year, and when vaccine centers opened, they were overwhelmed with crowds of people eager to get vaccinated.
Khativada said about 22 million doses have been injected and he expects an additional 30 million doses to be received in the next few months.
“The Cabinet of Ministers this week approved a proposal to purchase 6 million doses of Pfizer vaccine in the United States, while we will receive another 4 million Moderna vaccines,” Khativada said, adding that another 6 million doses have already been procured from China.
China donated another 2 million vaccines, and Switzerland another half a million doses.
“We will no longer have a shortage of vaccines, but our main concern and attention is now focused on the delivery of these vaccines to all corners of the country, including the remote mountainous areas,” he said.
Nepal faced its worst COVID-19 pandemic crisis in April, when hospitals were overwhelmed with patients being treated in garages and parking lots and people stood in long lines for oxygen tanks.
The government has imposed several bans and has been criticized repeatedly for how it handles the situation.
Nepal reported 910,308 cases of the virus and 11,454 deaths.