COVID-19 has been roaming the world for more than a year now and many are wondering when and how will this pandemic come to an end. These are the unknowns that have society on tenterhooks, which cannot lower its guard for a single moment to avoid contagion. Thousands of people have already died from this infectious disease around the world since its appearance.
Just a few weeks ago, Chris Murray, a disease expert at the University of Washington, blessed the arrival of vaccines, which he saw as a great solution in the fight against COVID-19.
However, one of the most authoritative voices in the world regarding the infections and deaths caused by the pandemic has radically changed his discourse.
According to his statements, coronavirus is here to stay. This change in the expert's opinion is motivated by the data that the new COVID-19 variants are showing, especially the Brazilian and South African strains, which weaken the effect of the vaccine.
Phil Dormitzer, one of Pfizer's top scientists, claimed last November that the success of his vaccine indicated that the virus was "vulnerable to immunization" and spoke of "a breakthrough for mankind". However, in January, he acknowledged that the new variants heralded "a new chapter" in the pandemic. The optimism with which the first vaccines were received is no longer unanimous. The numbers of the last few weeks on these two variants have dampened it moderately.
Chris Murray is not at all convinced that herd immunity is total and that transmission of the disease can be completely prevented in this way. Even if it is considerably reduced, the virus will become endemic, a pathological process that remains stationary in a population for prolonged periods of time.
Thus, although this expert from the University of Washington considers that vaccines are effective in reducing the number of hospitalizations, he predicts that infections and deaths will continue to occur in the coming years. In fact, at the current rate of spread, this expert believes that cases will quadruple those caused by other diseases such as influenza. His institute's current forecast, which runs until June 1, predicts an additional 62,000 deaths in the United States and 690,000 deaths worldwide from COVID-19 by then.
Shane Crotty, a virologist at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology in San Diego, shares the same opinion, calling this change in his forecasts "scientific whiplash". In December, he also saw it feasible to achieve "functional eradication" of coronavirus, as would be the case with measles. However, he considers that vaccination is still essential, even if "the expected result is not the same".
What is clear is that for both the end of precautionary measures will not be possible, predicting that the use of masks and avoidance of enclosed spaces, especially among people at high risk, will have to be maintained for much longer.
Nevertheless, experts do not give up, they also warn that these projections could improve. The new vaccines do seem to prevent hospitalizations and deaths, even in the face of infection caused by the new variants. Moreover, many pharmaceutical companies are already working on booster doses by modifying their vaccines to ensure a high level of efficacy against them.
[This is a translation of the original article "El fin del coronavirus podría no estar tan cerca: 'Es un mazazo científico'" published in espanadiario.net]