After two years of pandemic, COVID-19 is spreading again at full speed due to the highly contagious omicron variant. But despite everything, the hope remains that the coronavirus will become an endemic disease in 2022 with which humanity will learn to live.
The waves of contagion follow one another and resemble one another, with their parade of restrictions and reopening – often premature – that give the impression of “a day that never ends.”
“We have a very harsh winter ahead of us,” he warned WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Despite the explosion of cases, especially in Europe and the United States, many public health experts believe that the world now has the tools and expertise to master the virus. But public powers and society must make difficult and sometimes disputed decisions.
“The evolution of this pandemic is in our hands,” he insisted. Maria Van Kerkhove, in charge of the fight against COVID-19 at the World Health Organization (WHO), in the front line since the appearance of the disease at the end of 2019 in China.
Can we “reach a stage where we control transmission in 2022? Absolutely!” He exclaimed.
One year after their arrival on the market, the vaccines demonstrated their effectiveness against the most serious forms of the disease, although they do not completely stop its transmission, which allows the appearance of new variants such as the delta or the recent omicron.
World production should reach 24 billion doses by June, an amount in theory more than enough to immunize the entire world population.
For now 8.5 billion doses have been administered, but especially in rich countries that, despite solidarity speeches, distribute vaccines for their children and booster shots, while less favored nations continue to have large percentages of the unprotected population.
Reinforcement without discernment
The former vaccinated an average of 67% of the population, while the latter did not reach 10%, according to UN figures.
Dozens of countries already implement booster dose or vaccination programs for children. Others struggle to implement their vaccination plans, including health workers and the most vulnerable people.
“No country will be able to overcome the pandemic with booster vaccinations and these do not mean a green light to celebrate as we had planned,” said Dr. Tedros. “These indiscriminate reinforcement programs could even prolong the pandemic rather than end it,” he added.
The more the virus circulates, the more likely a more contagious, deadly, or vaccine-resistant variant will emerge.
The faces of the covid
Scenes of patients intubated or bedridden in corridors due to lack of space, cared for by exhausted medical personnel, have been repeated around the world. And in the streets of countries like Brazil or Indonesia, endless lines of relatives have been seen looking for oxygen.
Images of hundreds of makeshift pyres to incinerate COVID victims in India reflected the scale of the tragedy: officially more than 5.5 million people, although the WHO estimates that it may be two to three times as many.
No country has registered as many victims as the United States, with 800 thousand deaths from the pandemic. The constant stream of obituaries on the account @FacesofCovid (Faces of the covid) humanizes this impersonal figure.
“Christopher Mehring, 56, of Dillon, Montana, died of covid on November 2, 2021 (…) Words are useless to describe his love for his grandchildren.”
And Europe, which seemed to have turned the page with the widespread deployment of vaccines, returned to pandemic reality in late 2021 with a virulent fifth wave that has forced governments to again balance freedoms and restrictions.
During this time, the anti-vaccination and anti-restriction movement has become radicalized, with riots in the Netherlands, France or Belgium.
Either everyone or no one
Even so, experts are confident that the “pandemic” stage may soon come to an end.
As in the case of the flu, the world could continue to live with covid as an endemic but controllable disease, says Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist at the University of California Irvine.
But inequality in access to vaccines remains a challenge, adding to pre-existing imbalances between rich and poor countries.
As Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus repeats ad nauseam: “No one is safe if everyone is not.”
Rich countries would demonstrate “myopia thinking that by getting vaccinated they get rid of the problem,” warned Gautam Menon, professor of biology and physics at Ashoka University in India..
A catastrophic scenario hypothesis recently prepared by the WHO as a warning raises an out-of-control covid pandemic caused by increasingly dangerous mutations, coupled with another Zika-type pandemic.
In this scenario, confusion, misinformation and migration crises triggered by disease reduce trust in political and scientific authorities to nothing and sink health systems.
It is an even more disturbing approach considering that “we have a virus at the origin of the current pandemic and many candidates for the next,” said Michael Ryan, WHO director for emergencies.
“It’s certainly not the last of the dangerous pathogens,” said health and science specialist Jamie Metzl.
However the covid evolves, “it is clear that we will never be able to demobilize,” he added.