As a Coronavirus-weary world limps through the third year of the outbreak, experts are still of different opinions — while some are sending warning signals asking humankind to not let their guard down, others are hopeful that the pandemic may see an end this year if there are no more major spikes in infections.
Recently, the World Health Organisation’s representative in Russia stated that following the Omicron variant, if there are no other major variants of concern or a sudden spike in infections, then we might be looking at a possible end of the pandemic in 2022. However, it does not mean that the Coronavirus will vanish completely, Melita Vujnovic was quoted as saying in an interview with a news agency. “It’s hard to make predictions at the moment but we hope that if nothing else happens, the pandemic may end in 2022. What does an end to the pandemic mean? It means that there will be no major outbreaks, but it doesn’t mean that the virus will vanish.”
“A great number of cases means that the virus is capable of mutating so we don’t know how the situation will unfold. However, there is cautious optimism that major outbreaks will end once Omicron spreads across the globe,” she added. However, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had recently stated that “it’s premature for any country either to surrender or to declare victory”.
On the contrary, several experts around the world have suggested that we shouldn’t let our guard down as Omicron might not be the end. Various countries have eased restrictions, travel is gradually getting back to normal, vaccines are being administered on a larger scale, however, the pandemic might not really be tailing off so soon as some might assume.
The crisis isn’t really over until it’s over everywhere. “The virus keeps raising that bar for us every few months,” said Akiko Iwasaki, a professor of epidemiology at Yale School of Medicine. “When we were celebrating the amazing effectiveness of booster shots against the delta variant, the bar was already being raised by omicron. It seems like we are constantly trying to catch up with the virus,” she explained.
There are three major factors that can determine the worldwide impact of any new Coronavirus variant, which might be seen in the near future. It includes the extent to which the variant can evade the immunity developed by those who have been vaccinated or previously infected by other variants of the virus. The variant’s inherent infectiousness (often expressed as a higher basic reproduction number, or R0), and finally, the severity of disease caused.
While the first two factors will determine the number of cases we see in the future, the third will be responsible for the severity of the cases and the number of deaths we see.
For instance, as we have observed from the other variants of the COVID-19 virus, the Delta variant – which remains dominant around the world – was significantly more transmissible than previously circulating variants. It also showed limited evasion of immunity but caused more severe disease when compared to other variants. While experts observed that Omicron was even more infectious, it could sometimes even evade vaccine-induced immunity in a lot of cases but lead to a lesser number of deaths. There is still much more to learn about the mutating virus and its variants, according to virologists and experts across the globe.
The efficacy of COVID vaccines is being determined over time, especially over the fast few months since the emergence of the Omicron variant. While an initial course of all the WHO-approved vaccines around the world continues to provide strong protection against severe illness and death, the rate of breakthrough cases was observed to be increasing, indicating that protection declines with time. Thus, the need for booster doses has been increasing steadily with countries trying to ramp up their rollout.
However, there’s also concern regarding richer countries already offering booster doses while so many other developing nations have not yet been able to complete initial vaccinations.
Several experts have suggested that, as the virus gradually moves to an endemic phase, the world might reach a long-term state of disease prevention similar to those earlier seen with any kind of flu, that would be with annual or twice yearly booster doses.
At this point, it is safe to say that it is not clear. All of us have the same few questions in our minds — how will the pandemic end? When will it end? However, it’s not as gloomy as it seems because the truth is that pandemics always end. Experts have seen other pandemics in the past and the viruses didn’t just vanish. Humans didn’t develop herd immunity to several of these old viruses, either. Herd immunity is a phenomenon by which a pathogen stops spreading because so many people are protected against it, as they have already been infected or vaccinated. Instead, human beings went through a transition, helping our immune systems to learn more about these viruses and thus prevent deadlier manifestations of the infections (at least most of the time) as observed by researchers and experts.
Over time the viruses became weaker thus leading to surges of milder illness. Pandemic flu transformed into seasonal flu and viruses became endemic. If this is what is to happen to the Coronavirus, then there will be a time when the virus will cause a seasonal flu, like in winters, when they have favourable conditions for transmission.
When do you think the pandemic will end? Tell us in the comments below.
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