The World Health Organisation's warning that the COVID pandemic is far from over has little effect on the Nepal government, which has done precious little to ramp up its vaccination drive, letting complacency set in as the number of intra-day cases have been on a decline of late.

WHO's warning means that all countries, including Nepal, should not let their guard down against the COVID pandemic.

But the government does not seem to be taking seriously the risk of the pandemic surge and has not accelerated its efforts to provide second and booster doses to the targeted population. While other countries have already started providing COVID vaccines to children in the 5-11-year age group, the government has made no preparation to do so.

Although the Ministry of Health and Population says it has enough COVID vaccines in the storage, the number of people receiving booster shots remains low at 1,829,520. The government had set a target of fully vaccinating 19,922,164 people above 18 years of age by mid-April. Given the slow pace at which the government is carrying its vaccination drive, it may not meet the target of vaccinating all population by mid-April.

As of today, nearly 19 per cent of the targeted population has not received both doses of COVID vaccines. The government has set a target of vaccinating 3,405,455 children in the 12-17 age group. In this age group, 2,311,998 people (67 per cent) have received both the doses of vaccine and nine per cent have yet to receive the first dose of COVID vaccines.

Infectious disease expert Anup Subedee said government authorities were under false impression that the new wave of the COVID pandemic would be less lethal. "Many people are dying of COVID in Hong Kong. We should not think that the new surge will not be lethal," he said. He added that Nepali population would be at risk because most of them had received Vero Cell vaccines which were not as effective as other vaccines.

Even the efficacy of most effective vaccines starts decreasing after six to seven months

• Infectious disease expert Anup Subedee

"Even the efficacy of most effective vaccines starts decreasing after six-seven months," Subedee added.

He said the government authorities had talked of strengthening public health system by adding infrastructure, including by building holding centres at border entry points, but they had paused their efforts.

He said the risk of old and new COVID variant would always remain and the government should always increase its preparedness against any future surge in infections.

Another infectious disease expert Baburam Marasini said that at least double doses should be administered to 95 per cent of the targeted population -- 18-plus, as well as children aged 5-11. "Failure to fully vaccinate children in the 5-11 age group can spread COVID among the elderly and those with compromised immunity," Marasini added.

He said that the government had not taken seriously the risk of a possible surge in COV- ID infections.

Failure to fully vaccinate children in the 5-11 age group can spread COVID among the elderly and those with compromised immunity

• Infectious disease expert Baburam Marasini

Infectious disease expert Sher Bahadur Pun said that the risk of a new variant would always be there, but probably it would not get as bad as during the first and second waves.

"This does not mean that the government becomes complacent," he added.

Pun said that other countries had already started vaccinating children above five years of age, but in Nepal the government had not started vaccinating them.

According to the Ministry of Health and Population data, out of 47,882,800 vaccination doses that the country has received, 39,223,941 doses have been administered.

Assistant Spokesperson for the Ministry of Health and Population Samir Kumar Adhikari said that since the peak of third wave of the COV- ID pandemic ended recently, another wave would not hit Nepal anytime soon. "The government has continuously cautioned the public about the risk of another surge in COVID infections. We need to increase our vigilance," he said. He added that the government relaxed some measures because those provisions were necessary for economic recovery.

Adhikari said the government was not able to meet the target of booster dose mainly because people were not keen on booster doses. "Often people try to seek booster dose only when there is a surge in infections," he said, adding, "We will have to run campaigns to convince people about the need for receiving booster shots."

India has asked provincial governments to resume the process of monitoring symptoms related to COVID as countries in southeast Asia and Europe have been reporting increase in cases of coronavirus infection.

Reuters reported yesterday that new infections jumped by eight per cent globally compared to the previous week, with 11 million new cases and just over 43,000 new deaths reported from March 7-13.

A version of this article appears in the print on March 19, 2022, of The Himalayan Times