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In a first in Asia Pacific, refugees in Nepal receive vaccinations against COVID-19

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In a first in Asia Pacific, refugees in Nepal receive vaccinations against COVID-19

19 March 2021
An elderly Bhutanese refugee woman receiving her COVID-19 vaccination at a health centre in Damak, Jhapa district in eastern Nepal.

Refugees in Nepal are receiving COVID-19 jabs during the rollout of the country’s national vaccination campaign, becoming the first refugees known by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, to have received COVID-19 vaccinations in Asia and the Pacific.

As of 15 March, at least 72 refugees, including 65 Bhutanese refugees from Beldangi and Pathari-Sanischare settlements in Province 1 in eastern Nepal and seven refugees in Kathmandu, have received their first dose of vaccinations at local health centres. These refugees have been included on par with Nepalese citizens in the second phase of the national vaccination drive, which started on 7 March and targets people above 65 years old.

“The Government of Nepal has shown exemplary leadership for public health responses by including refugees in the national vaccination plans and rollout,” said Carolin Spannuth Verma, UNHCR Representative in Nepal.

Across the world, including in Asia and the Pacific, UNHCR has been calling on all countries to include forcibly displaced and stateless people in their vaccination programmes. Of the 157 countries now developing COVID-19 vaccination programmes, 110 have explicitly included refugees and other persons of concern to UNHCR, and 36 are in the process of doing so.

Nepal has generously included refugees in the national response plans since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Refugees can access health care and medical treatment on the same basis as Nepalese citizens.

Nepal kicked off its COVID-19 vaccination campaign on 27 January 2021 after the Government of India donated one million doses of Covishield, the India-produced version of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. In the first phase, frontline health workers, sanitation workers, cleaners and security officials, were vaccinated.

UNHCR in Nepal has been working in close cooperation with the other UN agencies and the Government of Nepal at the federal, provincial and local levels for the inclusion of refugees in COVID-preparedness and response interventions and in the socio-economic response plan.

Nepal also became one of the first countries in Asia to receive COVID-19 vaccines through the COVAX facility after the arrival of a first consignment of 348,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses in early March. The delivery of COVAX-procured vaccines to Nepal is part of a historic step towards ensuring equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines globally.

According to the Ministry of Health and Population, over 1.6 million people have been vaccinated in Nepal as of mid-March. Nepal plans to cover 70% of the 30 million population in the vaccination rollout plan. As of 15 March 2021, the country has reported 275,310 confirmed COVID cases and 3,014 deaths.

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