How long until the pandemic comes to an end and becomes endemic?

Audio note: Romina Farias
By Pablo Andrés Alvarez / [email protected]

“Surely Covid-19 will go from being a pandemic to an endemic, but for that there is still a long way to go.”

In this way, the virology specialist Mariana Puntel, who lived in our city 4 years ago to work at CONICET, where she is a researcher at the Biochemical Research Institute, referred to the theories that indicate that the new variant of coronavirus, Omicron, It would mark the end of the pandemic, after it was confirmed that it has milder symptoms but greater contagiousness than its predecessors.

“This variant has so far had pandemic characteristics due to the degree of contagion and lethality, but the latter is changing and is being much lower than the previous ones. This data would allow us to think that it could become endemic,” said the specialist.

In any case, he was not as optimistic as the Minister of Health, Carla Vizzotti.

“To confirm it we will need time. It remains to be seen in what terms both circulation and lethality stabilize at acceptable levels, but I think that until 2023 we will live in a pandemic.

By way of comparison, Puntel mentioned what happened with other coronaviruses, such as OC43 and NL64, and influenza A H1N1.

“These viruses continue to circulate, but they no longer have the danger of their beginnings. That is why they stopped being pandemic and became endemic, which are those that always circulate but are not more serious for the population, ”he explained.

For the specialist in virology, it is extremely important to increase the rate of vaccination worldwide.

“What the specialists say, and the WHO supports, is that until 2023 there will be circulation of variants. That year is not by chance, since it is when 70% of those vaccinated worldwide would be reached and, therefore, the herd immunity that was talked about so much would be achieved.”

“We must hope that in this course, the virus does not mutate towards more dangerous variants, but that it continues to do so towards less lethal ones. And that will be achieved with vaccination and maintaining care practices,” added the graduate in Biological Sciences and doctor in Chemical Sciences from the University of Buenos Aires.

With the decrease in its dangerousness, according to Puntel, the vaccination schemes will also vary.

“It is likely that, as with any other flu, only individuals in risk groups will be vaccinated. Over 65, pregnant women, patients with respiratory and heart disease, diabetes or obesity. And that the vaccine be annual.

According to Puntel, a phenomenon that is being described in parallel to the variants is that they are affecting the age ranges that have less protection. For example, groups that have not yet been vaccinated.

“Vaccination is a race against time, to arrive before the emergence of new variants and therefore, that the health impact is much less. The ideal setting for the birth of new variants is the unvaccinated group. The communities where it circulates most rapidly are those that do not have an immune defense. Both anti-vaccine movements and communities with little access to vaccines are a global concern, because they leave a very important open flank for the development of new variants that can be more aggressive.”

“There are many myths going around and none of them are scientifically proven. Many things are said without any support and that leads people to confusion, but today, the only way to counteract this virus is with vaccination that reinforces the natural immune response. It should also be clear that these vaccines do not prevent infection, but counteract the most severe effects of the virus, which can lead to death. We must clarify that until we verify that viral circulation has been controlled in our community, we should maintain the use of a mask and social distance even in vaccinated individuals.

What is the difference?

It is a reality that Omicron is a less severe and lethal variant, which means that the cost of lives will be lower compared to waves of other variants. With Ómicron, the virus is much more transmissible, but less severe.

That said, various epidemiologists predict that at least 90% of the world’s population will be exposed to the virus, which could lead to an endemic. Here are the differences between this and a pandemic.

The pandemic is the evolution of the epidemic. It occurs when a virus is present in a very wide area that crosses international borders and usually affects large numbers of people. According to the WHO, “the pandemic is the epidemic at its best.”

The coronavirus outbreak was classified as a “pandemic” when it reached all continents, focusing on the severity of the disease, the number of people affected and the impact on society globally.

Meanwhile, endemicity refers to the “constant appearance of a harmful virus, disease, disorder, or infectious agent in a geographic area or population group.” This means that the population learns to live with the virus since it is the chronic high prevalence of a disease in a certain area or group.

examples

Science has already managed to counteract other viruses. Since the mid-1970s there have been occasional outbreaks of Ebola, but they have always been contained and this pathogen does not circulate continuously among human populations (although it does circulate in its animal reservoirs).

The same thing happened with the two major coronavirus epidemics that have been suffered in recent decades. The so-called SARS emerged in November 2002 and killed 770 people, but no case has been recorded again.

The coronavirus that causes MERS has also caused small outbreaks that have killed 800 people since 2012, but the virus does not circulate continuously among humans (although it does among camels).

There are even 4 other coronaviruses that circulate endemically in human populations. They are called 229E, HKU1, NL63 and OC43.

The vast majority of the population has been infected with these viruses at some time, but since they cause very mild infections, most of the time it is unnoticeable.

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