Nearly two years on, the COVID-19 pandemic is still unrelenting. In many places, the pandemic continues unabated. Some countries are still suffering high rates of hospitalization and death, as Omicron is spreading rapidly. Similarly, in other countries, the pandemic is still lurking around. The reason for this is all current COVID-19 infections are because of Omicron.
The way Omicron is spreading rapidly, people are wondering – When will the COVID-19 pandemic ever end?
The highly transmissible nature of the Omicron variant makes it lethal. Omicron is 2-3 times more contagious than the Delta variant.
What Makes Omicron So Lethal?
After the detection of the heavily mutated Omicron variant in South Africa, scientists have been scrambling to find out what makes it lethal. There has been discussions on why it appears more contagious than the earlier dominating Delta variant.
According to a Danish study, conducted by researchers at the University of Copenhagen, Statistics Denmark, and Statens Serum Institut (SSI), published in the 1st week of January 2022, it was said that the Omicron variant evades vaccinated people’s immunity more easily than the Delta variant. The study findings further revealed that this is the reason for the rapid spread of the variant.
Generally, all viruses are more contagious for a number of reasons. They range from the time they linger in the air to their ability to evade the body’s immune system.
According to expert pulmonologists in India, Omicron may induce excess immunity that will allow it to stay endemically, like influenza. This is echoed by WHO which confirmed it is not possible to end the COVID-19 pandemic for viruses never disappear and instead end up becoming a part of the ecosystem.
What needs to be done is to ensure maximum vaccination and boosters of the population. With an increase in immunity levels, and with Omicron, natural immunity will become common on top of vaccination. This will help keep a low level of disease incidence and could put an end to the pandemic.
Precautionary Measures to Build Immunity
To manage endemic COVID-19,
- Consensus needs to be reached on COVID-19 – That it is a disease that will be endemic like the flu and needs to be accepted as such. Once that’s done, then targets should be set to define an acceptable new normal.
- Comprehensive approach needs to be adopted – This will help track progress against the standard, define new disease-management protocols to limit deaths, and finally, establish practices to slow the virus transmission.
The authorities by themselves cannot achieve the set goals. It requires concerted action across all segments of society. This includes Government, Healthcare providers, Employers, the Life-Sciences sector, and the General Public.
- Double masking, hand hygiene, and physical distancing, put in place by health authorities, should be adhered to. As long as Omicron is spreading rapidly, and there remains a high circulation of the virus, they need to be followed in total at the entire population level. This is irrespective of whether a person is vaccinated or not. If this follows, then it will help break the chain of transmission of the virus.
- Combination of vaccination and acquired immunity will help the society tolerate the seasonal deaths or illnesses that may occur because of COVID-19. At least 55% of the population should be fully vaccinated with a highly effective vaccine to achieve herd immunity. This can work as long as measures like facemasks wearing, social distancing, and many people still WFH, etc. Remain in place. This will help keep the virus transmission in check. Experts feel that it could be possible to eliminate the virus in regions where enough people have been vaccinated. This could help protect those who are not vaccinated, thereby contributing to herd immunity.
- According to a team of UK researchers, boosters work to offer around 85% protection against severe illness. This will help build up higher anti-body levels to fight the virus. However, WHO Chief Scientist, Soumya Swaminathan feels that still a lot of factors could influence when boosters need to be taken and how boosters work. For now, boosters work for people who have weaker immune systems, and older people.
The history of past epidemics has clearly shown that they end in one of two ways.
One is if the chains of transmission are closed and cases drive to zero. This was seen in the case of all Ebola epidemics to date. The other one is, the disease could become an ongoing part of the infectious-disease landscape, or endemic, as TB is today.
Very occasionally, as was in the case of smallpox – a previously endemic disease that was eradicated completely. However, for the most part, the endemic stage should be handled with some practical considerations, as discussed above.
The history of past pandemics resulted in massive changes in the way people live. They subsequently came to be accepted as normal.
Going forward, the Omicron variant has uncovered the need to live with a disease that brings up an constantly changing set of challenges and choices.
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