A result of a COVID test

The WHO's Most Optimistic Prediction: 'It Will Not End In 2021, but...'

Health authorities believe hospitalizations and deaths can be eliminated before the end of the year
A result of a COVID test
The WHO's most optimistic forecast | iStock

The pandemic will not end in 2021. This is what the World Health Organization (WHO) assured just a few days ago. But this time it has gone further and has given its most optimistic prediction so far. According to the director of health emergencies, Mike Ryan, by the end of this year "we can put an end to hospitalizations and deaths".

The WHO has become accustomed to making conservative predictions about the end of the pandemic, but this time it wanted to give a glimmer of hope: "it would be premature and unrealistic to believe that we will terminate the virus this year, but we will end admissions and deaths".

That the pandemic will not end this year is a reality increasingly accepted by all of us, starting with epidemiologists, who have been warning for some time that it is on the way to becoming a seasonal virus. All efforts are now focused on immunizing as much of the population as possible as quickly as possible, in order to limit contagion as soon as possible.

Scientists are convinced that if low incidence rates can be maintained and rapid progress is made in immunizing the world's population, the pandemic will be overcome. According to the WHO, "the main goal now is to keep virus transmission as low as possible to reduce severe and fatal cases". 

Ryan assured that some preliminary data call for optimism because they show good results in terms of vaccine efficacy. The administration of the first doses has resulted in a notable reduction in the number of infections. 

This is "very encouraging", said the director of health emergencies, because "if the vaccines begin to have an impact not only on fewer deaths and hospitalizations but also on the dynamics of virus transmission, then control of the pandemic will be accelerated". However, he recalled that for now "it is the virus that is in control". 

No levantar las restricciones antes de tiempo

The world health authority is concerned about two things. One is that the relaxation of the measures ahead of time will encourage a new spread of the virus. Not only does this threaten a new wave and new restrictions and lockdowns, but it gives the virus room to carry out new mutations. If this happens, the end of the pandemic could be delayed.

Why does this happen? Mutations are evolutionary changes made by the virus to adapt to new conditions. When it detects the stop that antibodies put on its expansion, coronavirus evolves with new variants that try to circumvent vaccines. But the virus only manages to mutate to the extent that it can be transmitted more and more rapidly.

Whereas, if vaccination advances rapidly and the chains of transmission are cut, the virus is unable to replicate and mutate, and then vaccines prevail and win. Coronavirus becomes a virus under control, and society can return to normal life.

To get to this scenario, something else is needed: to immunize the majority as soon as possible. And this is the second fear of the WHO. According to the latest data provided by the head of the organization in Europe, Hans Kluge, almost 16 million people have been vaccinated on our continent, which is less than 2% of the population.

This is a much slower pace than initially expected. The President of the European Commission herself, Ursula von der Leyen, acknowledged problems in procuring the vaccines and expressed confidence that they would be solved in the coming weeks. For the time being, the experts who were expecting a return to normality in the summer are now saying autumn.

Normalcy, in autumn

Autumn is indeed a more realistic prediction that agrees with the WHO's forecast. More and more experts agree that by the end of the year we will be able to recover relative normality, although we will have to continue wearing masks for a while longer, and maintain some vigilance to avoid outbreaks and mutations.

In the meantime, the WHO continues to ask countries to make a final effort to keep the virus at bay. The hope for vaccines contrasts with a new spike in cases in several places. The intention of some countries to reopen for Easter may prove too risky, and many experts warn that wanting to go too fast, despite the euphoria, may end up ruining the summer and what will follow.

[This is a translation of the original article "La OMS lanza su predicción más optimista: 'No acabará en 2021, pero...’" published in espanadiario.net]