A man wears a mask in London, England on January 24 – Photo: REUTERS
However, scientists warn that potential new variants and uneven vaccination rates for COVID-19 could threaten the world’s efforts to restore normal life.
Learn to “live with COVID-19”
When US global health researcher Christopher Murray wrote that “COVID-19 will continue but the pandemic is near an end” in the medical journal The Lancet in late January, he summed up the hopes of many health authorities. countries around the world on the prospect that the epidemic is about to be reversed.
In the weeks leading up to the two-year anniversary of the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring COVID-19 a pandemic in March 2020, countries such as the UK and Denmark have lifted all restrictive measures. Restrictions were imposed to prevent the spread of disease.
Many US states are also relaxing mask wearing and other rules.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the change marked the beginning of learning to “live with COVID-19”, as the number of deaths globally fell amid the contagious but contagious variant of Omicron. cause less serious disease “sweeping” the world.
WHO predicts that the “acute phase” of the pandemic could end by the middle of this year – if around 70% of the world’s population is vaccinated.
Spain is among countries calling for an approach that treats COVID-19 as endemic, meaning there will be milder seasonal outbreaks with which humanity can live, such as the flu.
However, evolutionary virologist Aris Katzourakis at the University of Oxford (UK) expressed concern about this issue, saying that “the word ‘endemic’ has become one of the most widely misused terms of the pandemic”.
In the article “A disease that can become an epidemic, both widespread and deadly” in the journal Nature last week, Katzourakis pointed out that malaria will kill more than 600,000 people by 2020. , while 1.5 million people died from tuberculosis.
Mental health disorders are part of long-lasting COVID-19 – Photo: EPA
4 potential scenarios
The UK government’s scientific advisory body SAGE has outlined four potential scenarios over the coming years. Under a “best and reasonable” scenario, there will be smaller regional or seasonal outbreaks, as higher numbers of COVID-19 cases lead to fewer flu cases.
In the worst-case scenario, unpredictable new variants form repeated outbreaks of dangerous diseases, requiring countries to reinstate strict restrictive measures.
The different outcomes depend on two main unpredictable factors: the likelihood of new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus emerging and the vaccine’s ability to protect against the disease over the long term.
When it comes to vaccines, the Omicron variant is both a warning and a test. Many epidemiologists believe that simply allowing the COVID-19 epidemic to spread unchecked will create more opportunities for this variant to mutate into new variants. There is no guarantee that such new variants are less likely to cause serious illness.
Katzourakis noted there is a common misconception that the virus evolves over time to become more benign, but this is not necessarily the case, citing the Delta variant as being more virulent than the original strain that emerged first. in Wuhan (China).
Still, at least the COVID-19 vaccine is still very effective in preventing disease progression and mortality – especially as the third booster shot has been rolled out around the world.
Pharmaceutical corporations are still racing to develop a specific vaccine against the Omicron variant.
Some recent preliminary results of animal trials suggest that such specific vaccines are not more effective against the Omicron variant than are already available.
COVID-19 vaccination for pregnant women – Photo: REUTERS
Prioritize broad-spectrum protection
However, there is still another way, which is to expand rather than narrow the scope of the vaccine.
Three researchers, including White House Medical Adviser Anthony Fauci, have called for a “global coronavirus vaccine” that will protect not only against COVID-19 but also other coronaviruses in the United States. in the future could infect humans from animals and cause another pandemic.
“We must prioritize the development of vaccines that offer broad protection,” the researchers wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine over the weekend.
However, developing such a vaccine requires overcoming major obstacles. Meanwhile, WHO stressed that the best way to end the “acute phase” of the COVID-19 pandemic is for rich countries to share a COVID-19 vaccine.
According to the WHO, only 13% of Africans were fully vaccinated at the end of last month – far below the target of 70% needed by the middle of this year.