As the Omicron variant comes to the fore in Europe and the United States, scientists are revising their predictions for the coronavirus pandemic next year.
Just a few weeks ago, experts predicted that countries would begin to emerge from the pandemic in 2022, following the resurgence caused by the Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta variants.
The first countries to emerge from the pandemic would be countries that would combine high levels of population exposure to the virus through infection and high levels of population protection through vaccination.
In these areas, Covid was expected to develop into an endemic disease, possibly with less severe periodic or seasonal outbreaks. The vaccines, which were available for much of 2021 in rich countries, would reach most of the world’s population next year.
But the rapid spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant, which was detected in late November, and its potentially greater ability to re-infect humans than its predecessors undermine this hope of a pandemic, according to Reuters.
Return of measures
Already, many countries are returning to measures taken in previous stages of the pandemic: travel restrictions, the use of masks, the avoidance of large gatherings on holidays, and even the cancellation of festive events. At the same time, there are many who are afraid of a new fifth wave with Omicron becoming dominant in the new year.
What must be taken for granted is that we will see an eruption of cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the immediate future. The mobility of the holidays in combination with the burdened health systems marks a difficult winter and possibly a more difficult spring.
Shortly before the predominance of Omicron in Greece as well
The picture in our country is not very different as the number of deaths remains very high, while the stabilization of the number of cases will not last long, with the situation changing after the holidays. At the same time, 17 cases of the Omicron variant are recorded in our country, with some of them being “orphans”. Despite the tightening of entry measures in the country, it is a given that it is only a matter of time before the Omicron variant prevails in our country as well.
Although we are not back to square one, most people will need to be vaccinated or exposed to Covid to overcome the pandemic, infectious disease experts told Reuters.
“People have recovered from the pandemic and God knows how far I have recovered, but if we fail to force our leaders to act urgently, I really anticipate that 2022 will be a repeat of 2021,” she said. Angela Rasmussen, virologist of the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization of the University of Saskatchewan, Canada.
We will live with the virus
But the difficulties do not stop with Omicron. Even as Covid develops into a more endemic disease, new variants will emerge and seasonal relapses will occur in the coming years. “There will always be a number of Covid cases, hospitalizations and deaths,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease specialist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “A lot of people have not realized this.”
The hope is that the virus will weaken to the point that it will not disrupt life. But living with Covid-19 does not mean that the virus is no longer a threat.
Instead, people should be prepared to adapt when the next variant appears, says Dr. Tom Frieden, head of Resolve to Save Lives and former director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “It may need to be determined at certain times that it is safer to do certain things than at other times.”
From pandemic to endemic Covid
Some scientists are not entirely ready to give up hope that some parts of the world will emerge from the pandemic next year. More than 270 million people have been infected with Covid, according to the World Health Organization, and about 57% of the world’s population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, which provides potential protection that did not exist two years ago.
“Even if this immunity is not so high against Omicron, it does not mean that it is useless. “And this immunity is more effective against the serious disease than against the transmission,” said Dr. David Dowdy, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins.
How much do vaccines protect?
So far, most of the studies investigating the effectiveness of Omicron vaccines have focused on neutralizing antibodies, which are also easier to measure. The results of blood tests from fully vaccinated people show that Omicron has learned to get rid of the neutralizing antibodies produced by the vaccines. But it is possible that a booster dose restores protection.
At the level of cellular immunity, it appears that T lymphocytes remain able to recognize the Homicron variant. Many experts believe that this second line of defense will prevent hospitalization and death.
At the same time, according to a study from the University of Washington, the weakest against Omicron are the vaccines, Sputnik, Sinopharm, Johnson & Johnson
The measures will accompany us for a long time
“There are still a lot of people” who are threatened because they are still unvaccinated, says Dr. Celine Gounder, a New York University infectious disease specialist. This is one of the reasons why he believes it will be some time before we move from pandemic to endemic Covid-19.
In the meantime, living with COVID in 2022 will probably mean assessing local risks and individual protection through vaccination, mask use and distance keeping.
“When I go shopping in the afternoon, it helps to know the level of Covid in my community,” said Dr. Robert Wachter, president of the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. “There will not be a pandemic stage. There will be different stages for different people and for different areas. And it will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. “
Study disputes that Micron is milder – Hope in the third dose
At the same time, a new study from Imperial College estimates based on the data so far that the risk of re-infection from Omicron is 5.4 times higher than Delta.
Also, the degree of protection against symptomatic infection from the variant after two doses of the vaccine is from 0% to 20% and after the booster dose from 55% to 80%.
Professor Neil Ferguson said it demonstrated the significant extent to which Omicron could escape immunity from both previous infection and vaccines. This makes it “a major, immediate threat to public health,” said the British expert.
“The study finds no evidence that Omicron has a lower severity than Delta, judging either by the proportion of people who are diagnosed positive and report symptoms or by the proportion of people seeking hospital treatment after infection.” It is pointed out, however, that the data on hospitalizations are still very limited.