COVID is back. But then it never really went away. And the respiratory disease’s resurgence in late summer could be a foretaste of an even bigger problem increase this winter.
Experts say the recent surge in infections, hospitalizations and deaths in the United States and other countries in the fourth year of the novel coronavirus pandemic was inevitable three years ago – when anti-science extremists around the world began politicizing the period. brand new vaccines.
Vaccines that, if widespread enough, could have choked off COVID and ended the pandemic as early as 2021. Instead, vaccination rates in most countries remained well below the 90 percent threshold needed to establish population-level immunity.
Politics driven by disinformation prevented us from ending the pandemic two years ago. And it still prevents us from ending it today. “We are once again on an absolute collision course between public health messages and politics,” said Irwin Redlener, founding director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University and associate professor of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the US Bronx.
This has given rise to what is known as “hybrid immunity” on the planet: a mix of vaccine-induced antibodies and natural antibodies from previous infections, which has a fundamental flaw. Antibodies from vaccines fade quickly. And as vaccination rates continue to fall, ever-widening gaps in humanity’s hybrid immunity are opening. “Because that immunity is also waning, we’re seeing a resurgence,” said Edwin Michael, an epidemiologist at the University of South Florida’s Center for Global Health Infectious Disease Research, who is running a complex simulation of COVID.
It’s these loopholes that COVID has been exploiting in recent years – and experts say it will continue to do so for at least another year. “The above pattern is also expected in 2024,” said Michael. That’s what it means youngest A surge in infections almost certainly won’t be the case last.
Many U.S. states are no longer tracking COVID cases, eliminating an important source of data that experts use to track trends in the spread and evolution of the disease. But wastewater monitoring – essentially sampling wastewater to measure the concentration of the virus –shows The summer surge in the United States began in mid-July.
Over the next six weeks, the average concentration of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in American wastewater rose from 165 to 638 copies – a four-fold increase. The spread has plateaued in recent weeks, suggesting a slowdown in disease transmission.
But hospitalizations lag infections because it can take days or weeks for an infection to become life-threatening. The first week of September, weekly COVID hospitalizations increased in the US to 20,500 – a threefold increase from the recent low in mid-June. COVID deaths in the US also increased In early September, peaking at more than a thousand per week. That’s double the death rate in June.
The situation was similar in many parts of the world. The UK had a late summer surge. Mexico too. And while the recent rise in infections, hospitalizations and deaths is only the fifth or fourth-worst COVID surge since the virus first jumped from animals to humans in late 2019, experts warn that the rise in infections and deaths is even more serious comes as the weather in the northern hemisphere cools and people huddle indoors.
Even this increase should not come close to matching the apocalyptic waves of disease that swept across much of the world in January 2021 and again in January 2022. There are gaps in our global immunity due to dwindling vaccine uptake, but it is still stronger than it was two years ago.
“Virtually the entire population has some level of immunity, either through vaccination, previous infection, or both,” Lawrence Gostin, a global health expert at Georgetown University, told The Daily Beast. As a global population, humanity is reasonably well protected. On one Individually However, the risks are very different. “The risks faced by older people and other vulnerable populations remain significant,” Gostin emphasized.
If there is one important reason for hope, it is the fact that the SARS-CoV-2 virus appears to be behaving as many experts predicted – moving toward greater transmissibility but likely less severity . The increased risk of infection, which is usually due to changes in the virus’s characteristic spike protein – which the pathogen uses to cling to and invade our cells – helps the virus spread quickly from person to person and especially to find enough people with weak immunity.
These unprotected souls become important breeding grounds for disease. Human laboratories for further virus mutations. But overall, these mutations create forms of the virus that make you sick their hosts without necessarily killing them them. “Let’s hope this continues,” Michael said.
From an evolutionary perspective, a near-perfect virus could be highly transmissible but pose little risk of death to the host. This is how flu generally evolved, and why humanity typically survives an annual flu outbreak with vaccinations, rest, and chicken soup.
However, James Lawler, an infectious disease expert at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, emphasized that this evolution toward coexistence between humans and pathogens is not inevitable. “The idea that viruses inevitably evolve and become less pathogenic to humans is an unfounded myth,” he said.
Redlener agreed. “The problem has always been that this [trend toward less severity] “That could change next week if someone identifies a new, more virulent strain,” he said.
But if we’re lucky, COVID could also become an annual flu-like plague – and one that can be prevented with an annual booster shot of the best messenger RNA vaccines. “But probably not for a while,” Michael told The Daily Beast. “There is a possibility that the system will resemble flu towards the end of 2024,” he said.
Unless and until this happens, the experts’ advice is the same as always. Stay vigilant and stay up to date on your vaccinations. Coincidentally, the latest booster shot is currently available – and it works really well. “The new booster encourages us all,” said Redlener.