COVID-19 is unlikely to be eradicated, but like the flu, it can become another controllable disease, according to several experts to euronews.
Professor Roland Kao, Professor of Veterinary Epidemiology and Data Science at the University of Edinburgh, explained to Euronews that “there is certainly a possibility” that the world will never be free of COVID-19, but that “it may end up being milder. “.
“In the same way that the influenza pandemic that occurred more than 100 years ago had three waves of infections each winter and then it was milder, this can happen,” he added, stressing however that “we are not sure what that will bring us next year “.
“The forecast is that if we wait long enough, it will get better, but we may never get rid of it. It would be another disease that we have to think about,” he continued.
More than 3.7 million people have lost their lives to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, and more than 174.4 million are known to have contracted the disease.
Attack of the variants
Most of the Western world has had to deal with three waves of the disease, spurred on by the emergence of variants just as vaccines began to be distributed.
In Britain, COVID-19 restrictions – first imposed in January to curb the spread of the (British) Alpha variant – were due to be lifted on June 21, but the government has already suggested that it may be delayed.
The UK has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world: more than 77% of the population have received at least one dose, and more than 54% are already fully vaccinated, according to official data.
However, during the past week more than 44,000 new cases were registered, which represents an increase of 63% compared to the previous seven-day period.
The rise in infections is attributed to the Delta variant – formerly known as the Indian variant – which is believed to be up to 60% more transmissible than the original strain of the virus. According to Public Health England, 94% of current cases in the UK that have been sequenced and genotyped are Delta.
“With the number of Delta variant cases on the rise across the country, vaccination is our best defense,” said Dr Jenny Harries, Executive Director of the UK Health Security Agency, in a statement. “However, although vaccination reduces the risk of serious disease, it does not eliminate it,” he added.
Vaccines strike back
Vaccines, Kao agreed, are especially effective in preventing the risk of serious disease. Tests also show that they offer some degree of protection against the spread of the disease and partial protection against further transmission.
Therefore, it is not impossible for a fourth wave to occur, but it is likely to be very different from the previous ones.
In the UK, the number of confirmed cases has risen 63% from week to week, but hospitalizations have so far risen by just over 7%. The number of deaths has increased by less than 2%.
“The important thing is that as long as the vaccines we are using appear to have at least some protection against severe disease, then (a fourth wave) it won’t be that bad,” Kao explained.
“There could be many cases, but the number of deaths could be lower and the number of hospitalizations in intensive care could be less. In that case, we could have a big wave, but without overloading the health system, without causing many deaths,” added. The epidemiologist warned, however, that “we are not in the phase of knowing for sure.”.
The Phantom Menace
With the mutation of the virus and the uneven global deployment of vaccines, there is always the risk that more variants will emerge, more virulent and resistant to treatments.
Just over six months after the vaccines were introduced, about 12.3% of the world’s population has received at least one dose, according to Our World In Data, most of which lives in wealthy countries. The world’s population is not expected to have been vaccinated until at least the end of 2022.
But a positive aspect to keep in mind, Kao noted, “is that obviously we have multiple successful vaccines, more vaccines that approach protection from a different way, which means that there is a greater chance that some of the vaccines will be more highly effective.” .
Vaccine manufacturers are also studying the variants and ways to create boosters to combat them.
“With all this effort, the chances are that we can not only detect the variants that concern us more quickly, but also that we can respond to them more quickly,” he said.
However, the total eradication of the disease is very unlikely … “For a vaccine to achieve this, what would have to be done is to deploy it throughout the world in a sufficient, complete and fast way so as not to give the virus time to develop variants fast enough to get around it, “he explained.
“It is possible, but it would require a certain level of global coordination that we currently do not have because the virus will always continue to evolve,” he added.
What this means, in effect, is that until such time as the disease is tamed in a milder version, some restrictions are likely to be in place for a considerable time, including the requirement to wear masks in certain settings..
“Long-distance travel is obviously an important factor for these variants to spread rapidly around the world. Therefore, more restrictions or requirements such as quarantine or tests on arrival may remain,” he said.