The coronavirus pandemic will not end until COVID-19 affects almost the entire population of the Earth – such a disappointing forecast was published by Bloomberg on Monday, citing scientists. According to experts, it is not worth expecting a return to normal life until humanity as a whole either gets sick or gets vaccinated. And this is under a favorable scenario. In the worst case scenario, vaccines may no longer work against new strains, and then everything will start all over again – high waves of morbidity, lockdowns and urgent development of new vaccines.
Scientists interviewed by Bloomberg agree that it is definitely not worth waiting for the end of the pandemic in the next six months. Local outbreaks will occur here and there – closing schools, transferring employees from offices to remote locations, overwhelming hospitals.
Another global outbreak should be expected in the fall and winter, said Michael Osterholm, director of the American Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota and adviser to the US president. Experts believe that the virus will not recede until 90–95% of the world’s population acquires immunity – after having been ill or vaccinated. At the same time, vulnerable “pockets” in the form of, for example, newborns, will always remain in the population.
Five well-documented flu epidemics over the past 130 years provide some insight into how the COVID-19 pandemic might develop, says Lone Simonsen, epidemiologist and professor of health sciences at Danish University Roskilde. The longest global outbreak of influenza lasted 5 years, and then the world overcame two to four waves of this infection in 2-3 years. The coronavirus is spreading faster – by the end of the second year of the pandemic, the world is in the middle of the third wave, and there is no end in sight, says the epidemiologist.
However, it is possible that COVID-19 will not follow the path of other infections, Simonsen notes. The virus is more contagious and, given that the death toll has already exceeded 4.6 million, is twice as deadly as any flu since the Spanish flu.
The idea that viruses automatically become “softer” over time in order to avoid the destruction of the population of their carriers is erroneous, emphasizes the epidemiologist. Although new mutations are not always more dangerous than their predecessors, pandemics can become even more deadly over time, “as the virus adapts to its new host.”
In Russia, the incidence has been declining in recent weeks, but at a low rate. Over the past day, 18,178 cases of COVID-19 have been identified. Mortality remains at a high level – 719 people in the last 24 hours.
In July, the death rate of patients with COVID-19 in Russia set a record since the beginning of the pandemic. For the month, the total number of registered deaths, for which the coronavirus became both the main and indirect cause of death, was 50 421. The government attributed the increase in mortality in the summer to a sharp increase in the incidence of the new Delta strain. In August, the authorities do not expect a reduction in the number of deaths (data for the last month are not yet available).
Over the entire time of the pandemic in Russia, 7,158,248 people were infected, 193,468 died. Fully vaccinated against coronavirus (with two components or a single-component vaccine) 39,713,518 people – 27.2% of the population.
Most of all, scientists fear that there will be a strain of coronavirus that is resistant to existing vaccines. “We hope this will not happen. My God, we would have to start all over again! ” – says Simonsen. However, some epidemiologists believe that SARS-CoV-2 may become completely resistant to first generation vaccines. A study in Japan shows that potentially dangerous mutations resistant to vaccines are already being noted.
At the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, some scientists believed that vaccines against COVID-19 could provide long-term protection, such as polio vaccines. But the speed with which new strains are emerging makes the coronavirus more like the flu in this regard. This means that it will probably have to be vaccinated against it every year, and the vaccines will be updated based on which strain is prevalent at the moment.
Another dangerous scenario for the development of events is the emergence of a new influenza virus or another coronavirus that is transmitted from animals to humans.
Scientists do not see any other option, except for mass immunization – naturally or with the help of vaccines. “Without vaccination, a person is like easy prey, because the virus will spread widely and will find almost everyone this fall and winter,” says Simonsen.
Now, despite good vaccination rates, incidence is high in some countries, including the United States, Britain, Russia and Israel. Immunization is helping to reduce severe cases and deaths, but the record number of cases means the virus has reached young people and other groups who remain unvaccinated.
In many countries, the vaccination rate remains critically low – for example, in most African countries, no more than 5% are vaccinated, in India with a population of more than 1.3 billion people – only 26%.
The pandemic will end at different times in different places, like previous outbreaks, says Erica Charters, assistant professor of medical history at the University of Oxford. And each country has its own path. For example, Denmark and Singapore, which managed to avoid mass incidence of coronavirus, are already moving into a “post-pandemic future”, returning to normal life. The United States and the United Kingdom are gradually lifting restrictions, despite the fact that the number of cases is close to record. China, Hong Kong and New Zealand remain locked down, although there are fewer infections. The pandemic is not only a matter of biology, but also a matter of politics and society, so for all countries it will end at different times, Charters summed up. But in any case, the pandemic will not end tomorrow or even in a few months – and this will have to be reconciled, scientists warn.