The misinterpretation of the recent sero-prevalence study conducted by WHO and the Health Ministry has added to the misconception. The sample survey found that 67% of Nepalis have natural immunity against the virus.
But virologists say the test used does not reveal the concentration of neutralising antibodies that fend off the virus in an individual. It does not detect memory T-cells either, which provide crucial immunity against foreign organisms in the body.
After six months of Nepal’s vaccination drive, about half of those who had been inoculated have started registering a decline in the level of antibodies. However, this does not always translate into individuals getting infected, as they might still have immunity afforded by memory T-cells.
“Given our vaccination coverage and natural immunity mostly against the Delta variant, we can say that there might not be an immediate large-scale surge unless there is a new strain,” says pulmonary specialist at Kathmandu’s HAMS hospital Raju Pangeni. “But we also know that even those vaccinated are not fully protected against the Delta variant which transmits much faster in enclosed spaces.”
With the Dasain festival starting this week, people are now leaving for their hometowns, and market places are crowded. Parties, meetings and seminars are being held in enclosed spaces, and unvaccinated students are packed into classes for lessons before the holidays begin.
During Dasain, children and the elderly are at the most risk of infection. While children are entirely unvaccinated, senior citizens even if fully inoculated have weaker antibody responses. This means the mobile younger population that have been vaccinated and hence are asymptomatic even if infected pose severe risks to the vulnerable groups.
“We must perform our rituals this Dasain keeping in mind the consequences of our actions, if we are not careful we will be jeopardising the health of our children and parents,” says Sherpa, who works with IPAS Nepal.
Experts have now shifted their focus to the post Dasain-Tihar festival season, and upcoming winter months when coronaviruses thrive. Children, elderly, people with co-morbidities, and immune-compromised individuals are at the higher risk.
Says Raju Pangeni: “Our priority now must be to vaccinate children across Nepal after the holidays. At the same time, we must also promote influenza vaccines in order to avoid the double whammy of Covid and flu.”