Ministry matters

The Ministry of Health is preparing to roll out Covid jabs for children aged 5 to 11

As pediatric doses of the Covid-19 vaccine for children aged five to 11 are about to arrive in the country, the Ministry of Health and Population has begun preparations to roll out the shots.

The Department of Health Services has already obtained emergency use authorization from the Department of Drug Administration for Pfizer doses, has conducted master trainer training for health workers in all districts, and is working on the vaccine rollout plan, officials say.

“Today [Tuesday] health workers from 56 districts received master trainer training on Pfizer vaccination for children. Health workers in 21 districts have already received such training,” Dr. Bibek Kumar Lal, director of the family welfare division of the health services department, told the Post. “We have also started other preparations to deploy the vaccine once the doses are delivered.”

The training of master trainers is an advanced level training for health workers who will pass on the training to other health workers in the respective districts on how to administer the shots.

Officials said Nepal would receive 8.4 million pediatric doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine free of charge. The United States government must bear the cost of the vaccine doses, which will be provided through the COVAX facility, the United Nations-supported international vaccine sharing program. USAID facilitated the process, officials say.

“Nepal is among the countries receiving free pediatric doses of Covid-19 vaccine from COVAX,” Lal said. “COVAX also asked about our storage capacity and logistics supply terms, among other things.”

Officials said the vaccine doses will be provided in multiple shipments because the government does not have enough freezers to store all the doses at once.

The health ministry said it could only stock about 2 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at a time in its central store in Kathmandu. Vaccine doses should be stored at minus 80 degrees Celsius in ultra cold freezers and can be stored at normal temperatures (2-8 degrees Celsius) for up to 31 days.

There are two types of Pfizer-BioNTech Covid vaccines for children: one is for people ages 5 to 11 and the other is for people ages 12 and older. Nepal has already used Pfizer vaccines on people with comorbidities and on children between 12 and 17 years old.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is the single shot recommended by the World Health Organization for use in children between five and 11 years of age.

The American Association of Pediatrics has recommended that 10 microgram doses be given 21 days apart for children between five and 11 years old. The dose, 0.2 ml, is a third of that given to adolescents and adults.

The vaccine vial for ages 5-11 has an orange cap while the other vial has a purple cap.

Each 10-dose vial requires 1.3 milliliters (ml) of diluent according to Pfizer’s preliminary plan.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration in October authorized the emergency use of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid vaccine for children between five and 11 years old. Several countries have already started administering the vaccine to children.

Earlier, the government had decided to vaccinate children between five and 11 years old with the Covid-19 vaccine from April. For this, the Ministry of Health had also decided to purchase 8.4 million doses of vaccine and had also signed an agreement for a $18 million concessional loan with the World Bank to procure the doses.

But with the Covid-19 infection rate dropping dramatically of late, the process of getting vaccine doses for said age group has been put on the back burner.

Officials said the plan to purchase the vaccine doses was halted after seeing a chance to get vaccine doses for free.

So far, Nepal has received 53,381,570 doses of Covid vaccines from different brands: AstraZeneca, Vero Cell, Moderna, Janssen, Sinovac-CoronaVac and Pfizer-BioNTech.

On Saturday, no less than 19,825,343 people, or 67.9% of the total population, were fully vaccinated in the country, according to the Ministry of Health and Population.