End of the COVID pandemic? What experts say could happen in 2022 after the omicron wave

Imagine the not-so-distant future when you can book a summer trip to Italy or don’t have to remember to take off your mask for a graduation photo. After the past 25 months, forgetting about the pandemic for even a little bit sounds like a pipe dream – after all, the coronavirus gave us hope before then.

But infectious disease experts say there could be an end in sight. Probably.

Well, let’s just say it’s not out of the realm of possibility in 2022.

“I think if we get it right, we’ll have a 2022 where COVID doesn’t dominate our lives too much,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, who served as director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Period under the President said. Obama and is currently the executive director and president of Resolve to Save Lives.

What the pandemic sequel looks like and when it will get there is what Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, an epidemiologist and infectious disease specialist at Stanford Medicine, and experts at relevant agencies State, academic colleagues, and local public health leaders spent the holidays trying to figure it out.

“We really don’t know exactly what happens next,” Maldonado said.

THAN: Scientists say Omicron won’t be the last COVID variant to worry about

There are disease patterns and lessons from past pandemics, but the way the highly infectious omicron variant emerged means that the scientists’ proverbial crystal ball is a bit ambiguous. .

“None of us really predicted the omicron,” Maldonado said. “Well, there were hints, but we didn’t expect it to turn out the way it did.”

Omicron has done a lot of things. According to data from Johns Hopkins University, more than a quarter of all COVID-19 pandemic cases in the United States have been reported in the past month, during the omicron rise period.

As of Thursday, the number of cases fell by at least 10% from the previous week in 14 states, but 26 states saw a rise in cases of at least 10%, according to Johns Hopkins data. Johns Hopkins.

This wave appears to have peaked in some of the areas where the omicron variant first appeared in the US, such as Boston and New York. But it is still raging out of control in other parts of the country.

In Georgia, for example, health leaders in the city of Atlanta say hospitals are still overwhelmed. With so many employees falling ill, the National Guard is now filling the health care gaps in states like Minnesota. Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said the “huge” number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths have resulted in “as much as we’ve had in Louisiana.”

However, infectious disease experts see hope in what has happened in South Africa.

“South Africa is our kind of canary in the coal mine because they can pick up the omicron variant first,” Maldonado said.

South African scientists first detected this variant in November. Cases there peaked and declined rapidly. In the UK they do the same. And that’s what experts say will happen everywhere.

John Swartzberg, infectious diseases and immunization specialist, and clinical professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health. “It will be around mid-February before we start to really see that things are getting better.”

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According to many experts, if this spike quickly dies down, there could be a “quiet period”.

Swartzberg believes March through spring or summer will be the same as last year, with case numbers continuing to decline. “There will be a spirit of optimism, and then we will be able to do more with our lives,” says Swartzberg. “I think May or June will really benefit us. I’m quite optimistic.”

Part of his optimism stems from the fact that there will be a much larger immune population, between the growing numbers of people who are vaccinated and boosted, and those who have contracted COVID-19 in the past. omicron gain process.

“In general, the level of immunity in our population will be much higher than during the omicron pandemic, and that will help us not only with omicrons and Deltas, if they are still circulating, but also Please help us with any new variations,” said Swartzberg. “To what extent will depend on the availability of drugs to intervene.”

That’s because the coronavirus will probably never go away completely.

“I fully predict another version of the virus will come back,” Maldonado said. “Those are the scenarios that really bring uncertainty to what happens next.”

Next Variations

Subsequent variants can transmit equivalent or even more omicrons. It can give people more severe symptoms — or no symptoms at all.

Dr George Rutherford, an epidemiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, said: “It’s still not clear what happens next. He said the virus can mutate gradually, like what happened with the Alpha and Beta variants. Or it can make a really big jump, as with Delta and omicron. “What’s next? It’s a crapshoot.”

For example, the H1N1 flu virus was a new virus when it started one of the worst pandemics in history in 1918 – it infected a third of the world’s population and killed 50 million people. among them.

That pandemic is finally over, but the virus is still with us today.

“It’s the great-grandfather of all the H1N1 viruses we see every year,” Maldonado said. “They’ve had a lot of mutations since then, but it’s from the same lineage. So maybe this virus will do the same thing.”

According to the CDC, the US still loses an average of 35,000 people each year to the flu. “And we got on with our lives,” Swartzberg said. “I don’t think it will ever go back to exactly how it was before.”

“That’s the best-case scenario,” Maldonado said.

With this flu-like scenario, the world needs to focus on protecting those who are vulnerable to severe illness, on ensuring they are vaccinated and have access to monoclonal and antiviral antibodies, Maldonado said. speak. Vaccine companies will need to produce specific variant vaccines so that people can get their annual COVID-19 vaccine. The country must also make the testing better.

“Neither oral nor monoclonal drugs are good unless you know you are positive for COVID,” says Swartzberg.

Situations in between would be if there aren’t enough antiretroviral or monoclonal drugs to treat people who are sick, or if vaccine manufacturers can’t make variant vaccines fast enough.

The worst case scenario is if a variant escapes the protection of vaccines and treatments.

“I think that’s less likely to happen,” Maldonado said.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he hopes that scenario doesn’t happen. “I can’t give you a statistic on the likelihood of that happening, but we have to be prepared for it.

“So we hope for the best and prepare for the worst.”

‘Choose your own adventure’ escape the pandemic

Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos said the US already has the tools to limit new variants and quickly end the pandemic.

“I don’t think we need any more scientific breakthroughs, we know how to prevent serious COVID: Vaccine.

Masks and testing also help.

Galiatsatos conducts hundreds of talks each year with community groups to encourage more people to get vaccinated. He thinks the scientist will have to continue this approach.

“We have the weapons to turn COVID into nothing but a bad cold,” said Galiatsatos. “We have the science. All people need is access to interventions, and we need to regain trust.”

According to the CDC, only about a quarter of the US population is fully immunized and healthy. The more people who are unvaccinated, the more they need to be hospitalized. The more cases, the more opportunities there are for dangerous new variants.

“That’s why it’s like a ‘Choose your own adventure,'” Galiatsatos said. “And I’m choosing the kind that put us in a better frame of mind as we reach people and vaccinate more people, and at the same time be able to end this pandemic and learn to adapt to this.” End of the COVID pandemic? What experts say could happen in 2022 after the omicron wave

Dais Johnston

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