With the world ready to hit more than five million people officially died of coronavirus, experts tell AFP that the future path of the pandemic will depend heavily on vaccinations.
How many dead?
The true number of deaths is thought to be far higher than the five million based on daily reports from the health authorities in each country.
The World Health Organization estimates that the total toll may be two to three times higher than the official records due to the excess mortality associated with COVID-19.
Economist magazine looked at excess mortality and concluded that about 17 million have died from COVID.
“This figure seems more credible to me,” Pasteur Institute epidemiologist Professor Arnaud Fontanet told AFP.
Whatever the case, the death toll is lower than from other historic pandemics such as the Spanish flu – caused by another new virus – which killed 50-100 million in 1918-1919.
AIDS has left more than 36 million people dead in 40 years.
Nevertheless, COVID has “caused a lot of deaths in a short time,” said Jean-Claude Manuguerra, a virologist at the French Institute.
“It could have been much more dramatic without all the measures that were taken, especially restrictions on the movement of people and then the vaccinations,” according to Fontanet.
Have we hit a plateau?
The appearance of a virus usually occurs in two phases, Fontanet explained.
First, “an explosive epidemic phase” in which the virus spread through a population that had never been in contact with it before.
In the second phase, it “settles down” as immunity builds up and becomes endemic.
With COVID, “it is the first time in the history of pandemics that efforts have been made on a global scale to accelerate the transition” between the two phases, Fontanet said.
Acceleration has been made possible by vaccinations.
“It has enabled the population to acquire immunity artificially against a virus it had not known and thus to do in 18 months what normally takes three to five years with many more dead,” he said.
Therefore, the next stages will vary depending on the level of vaccination in each country and the effectiveness of the vaccines used.
“We are probably several months from the time there will be a safety net everywhere. The problem is to know if it will be strong enough.
“This virus will still circulate. The goal today is no longer its elimination, but protection against the serious types.” said Fontanet.
“The idea is that COVID leads neither to the hospital nor the cemetery,” Manuguerra added.
What future awaits different nations?
The face of the pandemic is expected to change with the wave after wave that has so far witnessed a decline in industrialized countries where most people have been vaccinated. Overvoltages will, above all, affect the non-vaccinated.
“For industrialized countries, I think we are heading for seasonal COVID epidemics, which may be a little more severe than the flu epidemic in the first years before they settle,” Fontanet said.
Global immunity will be built layer upon layer, he stressed, with vaccines that boost immunity to natural infections.
Other countries like China or India with a strong vaccination capacity could follow a similar path.
Nations that adopted a zero COVID strategy to eradicate the disease are facing failure due to the highly contagious nature of the Delta variant.
They are running today to inoculate everyone, Fontanet said, with the likely result that Australia and New Zealand, for example, will quickly catch up.
More difficult scenarios await regions with limited vaccine capacity, such as large parts of Africa.
The strong resurgence in Eastern Europe has confirmed that failure to vaccinate enough people exposes a population to “serious epidemics affecting hospitals”, according to Fontanet.
While the current increase in cases in Western Europe – despite high levels of vaccination – should make us cautious.
“You should not take a Europe-centered view: in a pandemic, it is the whole planet that must be taken into account. And at the moment, the pandemic has not stopped,” warned Jean-Claude Manuguerra.
What about new varieties?
The biggest fear is the emergence of new varieties that are resistant to vaccination.
Delta has swept aside previous varieties, including Alpha, and has stopped new strains like Mu or Lambda from spreading.
But more than brand new variants, experts now expect Delta itself to mutate and become vaccine resistant.
“Delta is the main virus. So statistically it’s from there that we risk seeing a variant of a variant,” Manuguerra said.
The UK authorities are monitoring a Delta sub-variant called AY4.2. There is no evidence for now that vaccines are less effective against it.
“It is important to keep up with genomic monitoring,” Manugerra noted, referring to efforts to detect different variants.
It allows “the emergence of variants to be identified quickly enough and to know if they are more dangerous, more transferable, and if immunity still works.”
WHO is more in doubt that vaccines stop the pandemic
© 2021 AFP
Citation: What about COVID after five million deaths? (2021, November 1) Retrieved November 1, 2021 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2021-11-covid-million-deaths.html
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