Wed, 12 June, 2024

Plans afoot to jab children aged 5-11 with Pfizer vaccine

Arjun Poudel Jan 02, 2022

If everything goes as planned, Nepal will start jabbing children aged 5-11, in what will be a step forward in the country’s vaccination campaign which has picked up pace lately despite some initial hiccups and management issues.

The government is expecting shipments of around 6 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which it has purchased from the American firm, this month. And these doses are likely to be administered to children of the said group.

“Discussions are underway to administer the Pfizer vaccine to children between five and 11 years of age,” Dr Surendra Chaurasia, chief of the Logistic Management Section under the Department of Health Services, told the Post.

A recent meeting of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee, according to officials, recommended that the government should start preparations to inoculate children aged 5-11, as the risk of infections in the age group is high.

The plan to jab children aged 5-11 comes at a time when half of those aged 12-17 have already been vaccinated. The government started vaccinating children aged 12-17 with the Moderna vaccine from December 19.

“We will have sufficient doses of the Moderna vaccine to inoculate the remaining 1.8 million children between 12 and 17 years of age,” said Chaurasia. “We are considering administering the Pfizer vaccine to children aged 5-11.”

Of around 3.6 million children between 12 and 17 years of age, the government has administered vaccines to over 1.7 million children in 57 districts so far.

Earlier, officials at the Health Ministry had said that the Pfizer vaccine would be administered to children aged 12-17 from 20 districts, whose number is estimated to be 1.8 million.

Chaurasia said since most of the children aged between 12 and 17 of 20 districts are likely to be jabbed with the Moderna vaccine, Pfizer will be given to those aged between 5 and 11 years.

Nepal has purchased 4 million doses of Moderna vaccine and 6 million doses of Pfizer vaccine using a loan from the World Bank.

The government’s plan to vaccinate children aged 12-17 in eight districts, including three in the Valley, with Pfizer from last Tuesday, however, has been put on hold for a while because of syringe shortages.

The children of the age group were to be vaccinated with the 664,560 doses of Pfizer vaccine that Nepal received on November 24. The United States provided the doses through the COVAX facility, the international vaccine sharing scheme backed by the United Nations.

But syringes were not delivered with the vaccines.

A 0.3ml auto-disable syringe is needed for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Chaurasia said that the diluent for the vaccine arrived on December 27 and that syringes are scheduled to arrive on Tuesday.

Though Nepal became one of the first countries in the world to launch its vaccination drive against Covid-19, starting on January 27, 2021, it faced massive shortages of shots, as the country dealt with the devastating second wave. Later on, doses started to arrive at a steady pace—some donated and others purchased—placing Nepal in a comfortable position to vaccinate its population.

So far, 10,384,851 people or 34.2 percent of the over 30 million population have been fully vaccinated.

Nepal is also ahead when it comes to vaccinating the children. India announced last Saturday that it would start vaccinating children aged 15 to 18 from January 3.

Public health experts say vaccinating children is a good move and that the plan to jab those aged 5-11 is quite appropriate as many countries around the world have already started doing so. Since concerns have also grown over the spread of the Omicron, the new variant of the coronavirus, vaccinating everyone, giving booster shots and inoculating children are the need of the hour, according to them.

Countries around the world are expanding Covid-19 vaccination programmes to include young children as infections have surged in Europe amid concerns over the new Omicron variant.

Countries of the European Union rolled out vaccines to five- to 11-year-olds from December 13, one week earlier than planned. Italy on December 1 approved vaccination for those aged five to 11 years.

The Czech Republic has pre-ordered shots for 700,000 children aged between 5 and 11. Ireland’s National Immunisation Advisory Committee has approved the use of the Pfizer vaccine in the 5 and 11 years age group.

Danish health authorities have said that the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine will be offered to children aged 5-11 following the authorisation by the European Medical Agency.

Nepal so far has reported three Omicron cases—two earlier this month and the third last Wednesday. The Delta has been the most dominant variant in the country.

As of now, 11,594 people have died of coronavirus infections in the country since the start of the pandemic.

On Saturday, 382 people tested positive for the coronavirus (342 in 5,007 polymerase chain reaction tests and 40 in 15,952 antigen tests). The daily test positivity rate is over 6.8 percent, which is a sharp rise compared to the infection rate of the last several weeks.

On Friday, 241 people tested positive in 6,814 polymerase chain reaction tests, which was around 3.5 percent.

No Covid-19-related death was reported in the last 24 hours, according to the Health Ministry.

But given the sharp rise in the number of Omicron cases in neighbouring India, experts say Nepal should maintain vigilance. They have warned of the third wave with a surge in cases from the existing variant amid the threat from Omicron.

In India, with which Nepal shares a long porous border, Omicron cases have been on the rise. India has recorded at least 1,431 Omicron cases as of Saturday.

India reported 22,775 new coronavirus cases and 406 deaths in the last 24 hours, which shows a sharp rise in the number of new cases.

Doctors for long have stressed the need to ramp up the vaccination drive, launch booster shots and expand vaccination campaigns to include young children, as there are enough doses in stock and more are in the pipeline.

Nepal so far has received 39,203,927 doses of various vaccines—Vero Cell, AstraZeneca, Janssen, Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech.

Public health experts say any decision on vaccinating any age group is always a good decision as the virus threat is far from over.

“As the new variant of the virus is spreading faster than the existing variant, we can expect a massive outbreak after two weeks of an outbreak in India,” said Dr Prabhat Adhikari, an expert on infectious disease and critical care. “The sooner more people of all age groups are vaccinated, the better.”