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As waves of SARS-CoV-2 infection still travel through populations around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has inflicted a significant global health burden. However, India is accelerating transformations at an unparalleled rate with multiple vaccination drives, and attempts to garner nationwide coverage, ensuring every citizen is vaccinated. A recent report by UNICEF stated that India had one of the world's highest vaccine acceptance rates and in terms of the social landscape, the number of deaths in the third wave has significantly reduced when compared to the past two waves, owing to the vaccines. But how immune the country remains, is a question.
While India recovered from the devastation of the third wave, preparations for a probable fourth wave are being made by enhancing health infrastructure. It was initially contemplated by experts that with vaccine doses, the country is more likely to gain herd or hybrid immunity among 60 per cent of the population with transmission rates dropping to 40 per cent. "Hybrid immunity" describes a type of "super" immune response that results from a combination of endogenous infection and a single vaccine dose. However, according to several studies, only 30 per cent of the population have received their doses, since vaccine apprehension persists, with health workers encountering opposition from some who believe vaccines are ineffective and produce adverse implications.
Though nearly 59.3 per cent of the Indian population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, immunity typically lasts nine months after Covid-19 vaccination, according to the Indian Council of Medical Research and other global and Indian research. Now, the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 impairs the neutralizing capacity of antibodies generated by vaccinations as well as hybrid immunity due to its countless mutations. Healthcare experts also believe that this mutation has led to high transmission rates, which many policymakers did not account for and the uncontrollable nature of the disease has led large segments of the population to keep immunity at bay. High mutation outlays are also the same reason why healthcare workers and scientists find it difficult to predict the nature of the virus and understand the duration it would take for everyone to become immune.
Nevertheless, vaccines do not offer immunity in their entirety, so it is uncommon to witness breakthrough infections during mutations where individuals are either asymptomatic or symptomatic and continue to spread infections.
Though vaccines are only supplements to immunity, the body in general, has a great defence mechanism to prevent symptomatic infections among masses. The immune system recalls a virus infection after a person recovers from it. If the pathogen is contacted again, immune cells and proteins that circulate in the body can identify it and kill it, protecting the body against disease and lowering the severity of illness.
Furthermore, in the Indian Subcontinent, the indisputable therapeutic effects of Indian spices in increasing immunity are well documented in Ayurveda and other Indian systems of medicine. Turmeric, for example, is the most frequent food component in Indian kitchens because it contains curcumin (an active chemical polyphenol). Curcumin is an antioxidant with anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and wound-healing effects. Several studies have suggested that it could be used to treat arthritis, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and inflammatory bowel disease. Similarly, there is a slew of other spices that are commonly utilized as food ingredients in Indian curries.
However, lifestyle changes and dietary habits have reduced the T-cell immune responses, which is an important factor in controlling the SARS Virus. In order to build the immune system, it is important for people to progress towards a healthy lifestyle more than ever and add foods that boost the immune system including citrus fruits, leafy green vegetables, and yoghurt for better tissue health and integrity.
(The article is contributed by Dr P. Kuganantham, HOD & Senior Consultant Social Medicine, SIMS Hospital, Chennai)
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