‘Vaccines have given us a smell of victory’: Dr. Sameer Mani Dixit

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Every week good news about the COVID-19 vaccines surfaces and odds are very high that the vaccine will be approved and available very soon. Many people are looking forward to it if it is done right. Mero Tribune talks with the public health expert Sameer Mani Dixit –

Currently, there are several dozens of vaccines in several stages of clinical trials, some of them have shown extraordinary efficacy. What does it mean for our hopes for ending the pandemic?

At present, according to available information, 10 vaccines are already in limited use in various countries and 2 that are approved by countries for full use. Further, at least 20 vaccines are in phase 3 of clinical trials and it will be a matter of just months before those too, are either received limited or full approval. This exciting development assures us that we now are in a very strong position to end SARS-COV-2 infection in its current form across the globe, and thereby save lives.

Why is it important to get vaccinated against COVID-19?

Vaccines mimic real infection, but without the negative effects caused by the pathogen. In the case of COVID-19 vaccines, getting vaccinated with any of the approved vaccines would allow our bodies to produce immune cells (B and T cells) that can collectively fight off real viruses faster should it infect the body. In absence of vaccines, the production of such immune cells will take a longer time, and this can lead to the severity of infection in some persons

Some vaccine makers are talking that the coronavirus can be endemic, do you think it is likely that we should have vaccinated again and again?

We don’t know that for sure yet. Since vaccination has just started in very limited countries and on a limited population, it will take at least 6 months to get an idea of how our immune system will respond to the vaccines, and for how long the effect will stay. If we take the example of the Influenza A vaccine (‘flu’), it needs to be taken every year as the virus mutates regularly. SARS-COV-2 is also an RNA Virus, similar to Influenza A, and does mutate regularly. The mutation is the key to finding out whether vaccines will be effective for a long or short time

One who has already recovered from the virus, should be vaccinated?

Scientifically, a person who has been infected by a virus has already ‘trained’ their body’s immune system to produce immune cells against the virus. This is similar to what a vaccine is supposed to do anyway, and as such, this person would not immediately need a vaccine. However, a booster dose is always useful, thus anyone who has been infected and recovered could still benefit from at least one vaccine dose. Also, since SARS-COV-2 does mutate regularly, this information would be important to decide whether a recovered person might still need to receive the first dose of the vaccine once again. These decisions will depend on the suggestion by the manufacturer of the vaccine.

5- How long it may take for the vaccines to be available in Nepal?

Going by recent activities of the MoHP expert team, political leadership in the government, we may see the start of vaccinations to a select group of people (‘high-risk population’) by April this year. However, a lot depends on our diplomatic channels and political will.

How should the government go about immunizing the people?

It should follow what other countries have done, and follow WHO advice. It is no secret that healthcare and other frontline professionals, persons over 60, and those with underlying health conditions (‘comorbidities’) should get access to vaccines first. At this point, children under 15 have not been prioritized globally for the vaccines due to the low risk of severity in this group.

8- What strategy should the government use to make the vaccine available to mass?

Nepal has a well-tried and tested, successful immunization campaign history via Family Welfare Division, DoHS/MoHP. They are supported by WHO-IPD (Nepal). The same mechanism should be used. Vaccines requiring standard cold chain (2-8C) should be prioritized over those requiring colder conditions as those will be easier for Nepal Government to utilize for a successful campaign.

9 – As the news of the vaccine surfaces, do you think it is a victory or light at the end of the tunnel in the case of Nepal? How long it may take for Nepal to get life back to normal?

Vaccines have given us a smell of victory, and the fact that we have so many vaccines in our arsenal for 2021 is a reason to be so optimistic. However, the first half of 2021 will be a race by many countries for limited vaccines thus Nepal and many developing countries won’t have enough for the entire population. However, the second half will be better in terms of vaccine campaigns inside the country. Since it will take at least after vaccination to see the real effects in the population, we have to be prepared to live with the virus entire 2021. However, from 2022, things should get back to normal in Nepal and the rest of the world. Therefore, for this entire year, while we await vaccines, and even after we take them, wearing masks is highly recommended and also avoiding crowds.


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