Imagine a not-too-distant future when you can book that summer trip to Italy or not have to remember to take your mask off for graduation photos. After the last 25 months, forgetting about the pandemic, even for a little while, may seem like a fantasy – after all, the coronavirus has raised our hopes before.
But infectious disease experts say there may be an end in sight. Perhaps. Well, let’s just say it’s not out of the question for 2022.
“I think if we do it right, we’re going to have a 2022 where Covid-19 doesn’t dominate our lives as much,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, former director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) during his term in office. by Barack Obama.
What the next part of the pandemic will look like and when it will be is what Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, an epidemiologist and infectious disease specialist at the University of Satnford (USA), and experts from federal agencies, academic colleagues and local public health leaders spent the holidays. end of year trying to find out.
At least there’s a general consensus among experts on what happens next: “We don’t really know exactly,” Maldonado said.
There are disease models and lessons from past pandemics, but the way in which the Omicron variant emerged has left scientists’ crystal ball a little hazy.
“None of us really anticipated Omicron,” Maldonado said. “Well, there were signs, but we didn’t expect it to happen exactly the way it did.”
The variant has already done a lot. More than 25% of the total cases of the Covid-19 pandemic in the United States were reported last month during the Omicron outbreak, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
The wave appears to have peaked in some areas where the variant first arrived in the US, such as Boston and New York. But it is still out of control in other parts of the country.
In Georgia, for example, medical leaders in metro Atlanta said hospitals remained overwhelmed. With sick employees, the National Guard now fills in health gaps in states like Minnesota.
Infectious disease experts, however, see hope as they look at what happened in South Africa.
South African scientists first identified the variant in November. Cases peaked and dropped rapidly. The same happened in the UK. And that’s what experts think will happen everywhere.
“I predict that in the short term – the next six weeks – it will still be quite difficult,” said Dr. John Swartzberg, an infectious disease specialist and professor at the University of California (USA). “In mid-February we will start to really see things are improving”;
If that spike passes quickly, many experts think there could be a “quiet period”.
Swartzberg believes March through spring or summer will be like last year, with a continued decline in the number of cases. “There will be a sense of optimism and then we will be able to do more with our lives,” said the expert.
Part of their optimism stems from the fact that there will be a much larger immune population, among the growing number of people vaccinated and boosted and those who caught Covid-19 during the recent outbreak.
“The level of population immunity will also help us with new variants,” Swartzberg said. But the coronavirus will likely never go away completely.
“I fully anticipate another version of the virus coming back,” Maldonado said. “These are the scenarios that really bring uncertainty to what comes next.”
to next variant
The next variant may be as or more transmissible than Omicron. It can give people more severe symptoms — or no symptoms at all.
“It’s not clear,” said Dr. George Rutherford, an epidemiologist at the University of California (USA). The virus can mutate gradually, as happened with the Alpha and Beta variants, or it could take a very big leap, as with Delta and Omicron, analyzes Rutherford.
The H1N1 flu virus, for example, was a new virus when it started one of the worst pandemics in history in 1918 – it ended up infecting a third of the world’s population and killing 50 million people. This pandemic is over, but the virus is still with us today.
“This was the first of all the H1N1 viruses that we see every year,” Maldonado said. “They’ve had a lot of mutations since then, but they’re from the same strain. So it is possible that the coronavirus could do something similar.”
About 35,000 people a year die from the flu in the US, according to the CDC. “And we get on with our lives,” Swartzberg said. “I don’t think it will ever go back to what it was, exactly.” Maldonado says that “this is the best scenario”.
With this flu-like scenario, the world needs to focus on protecting those vulnerable to serious illness, ensuring they are vaccinated and have access to monoclonal and antiviral antibodies, Maldonado said. Pharmaceutical companies would need to manufacture variant-specific vaccines so that people could get vaccinated every year.
The worst case scenario is if a variant escapes protection from vaccines and treatments. “I think it’s less likely to happen,” Maldonado said.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he hoped this scenario would not materialize. “I can’t give you a statistic on the chance of that happening, but we have to be prepared for it. So we hope for the best and prepare for the worst.”
Importance of vaccination
The US already has the tools to limit new variants and end the pandemic quickly, says Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos.
“I don’t think we need more scientific advances, we know how to stop serious cases: vaccines,” said Galiatsatos, an assistant professor of medicine and an expert in pulmonary and critical care medicine at Johns Hopkins University. Masks and tests also help.
Galiatsatos gives hundreds of talks with community groups to encourage more people to get vaccinated. “We have the weapons to turn Covid into nothing but a bad cold,” Galiatsatos said. We have the science. All people need is access, and we need to regain trust.”
Only about a quarter of the US population has received all three doses of the vaccine, according to the CDC. The more people who are not vaccinated, the more they are hospitalized. The more cases, the more opportunities for dangerous new variants.
This content was originally created in English.
Reference: CNN Brasil