The Omicron variant of the coronavirus will in effect wipe out all the other mutations of the virus and people across the world will “have our normal lives back in two months” according to Denmark’s chief epidemiologist.
The much more transmissible mutation of the virus that has swept across the world for two years now will bring about the end of the pandemic, she says, noting the results of a new study in the nation that saw one of the earliest outbreaks of Omicron.
Tyra Grove Krause told interviewers on Danish TV 2 on Monday that the new study, undertaken by Denmark’s State Serum Institute shows that the risk of becoming hospitalized with Omicron is half that of the Delta variant.
Omicron will continue to cause rise in cases — then sharp drop
Looking at the evidence presented by real-world studies in South Africa, she stated that there will be a sharp rise in cases — but then they will decrease very rapidly.
“I think we will have that in the next two months, and then I hope the infection will start to subside and we get our normal lives back,” she said on Monday, as reported in the Daily Mail.
“Omicron will peak at the end of January, and in February we will see declining infection pressure and a decreasing pressure on the health care system,” Krause stated, cautioning “But we have to make an effort in January, because it will be hard to get through.
“Omicron is here to stay, and it will provide some massive spread of infection in the coming month(s). When it’s over, we’re in a better place than we were before,” the study’s authors said.
Krause explained that the extremely contagious Omicron variant does seem to be milder than any other previously-known mutation of the virus, which ultimately means that more people will indeed become infected, but experience less serious symptoms — and then become immune.
That is how the world may actually reach the herd immunity that will allow us to resume our lives once again.
On Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the US’ top immunologist, stated almost exactly the same prediction on ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos.”
“One of the things that we hope for, George, is that this thing will peak after a period of a few weeks and turn around. We have seen that happen in South Africa, where they had a major surge, but, as quickly as the surge went up, it turned around,” Fauci stated.
Omicron more contagious, yet milder overall, experts say
When Stephanopoulos asked if Omicron indeed causes less severe infections than those experienced in all previous permutations of the virus, Fauci agreed.
“Well, there’s accumulating evidence, George, that that is the case,” he said, noting “We first got inkling of that in South Africa. When one looked at the relationship and the ratio between hospitalizations and cases, it was lower, the duration of hospital stay was lower, the requirements for oxygen was lower.
“We’re seeing a bit of that, not as pronounced, in the UK, but certainly that trend. And if you look here at the United States, we don’t want to get complacent at all, and you don’t want to jump to a positive conclusion, because it’s still early,” Fauci said.
From the beginning, there was promising news out of South African physicians and researchers indicating that the newest, most highly mutated version of the coronavirus was indeed not just more contagious but that it conferred immunity against the other existing variants.
South African study finds immunity to Delta variant after Omicron
The Africa Health Research Institute in Durban conducted a small-scale study in December that showed those who had Omicron indeed experienced a higher immunity to Delta; this effect was even more pronounced in those who had been vaccinated.
The New York Post stated in a report that that study — which, like all others having to do with Omicron, has not been peer-reviewed yet because there hasn’t been enough time to do so, involved 15 vaccinated and unvaccinated Omicron patients in South Africa.
That study, led by Alex Sigal and Khadija Khan, showed that while the neutralization of Omicron increased 14-fold over 14 days after the study began, there also was a neutralization of the Delta variant that amounted to a multiple of 4.4 times.
The authors stated “The increase in Delta variant neutralization in individuals infected with Omicron may result in decreased ability of Delta to re-infect those individuals,” adding that their findings are “consistent with Omicron displacing the Delta variant, since it can elicit immunity which neutralizes making re-infection with Delta less likely.”
Identifying new goals as pandemic continues
As the Omicron variant of the coronavirus continues to cause spikes all over the world, most experts appear to believe that although there will indeed be an end to the pandemic, the coronavirus in some form “will be with us forever.”
No one believes that one single magic bullet will be found to eradicate all forms of the virus; quite the opposite. The world will have to find some way forward, learning to manage the risks.
In addition, those who experience the extremely contagious Omicron variant will enjoy at least some protection against other forms of the virus that are still extant.
People around the globe are clearly exhausted after almost two full years of dealing with the social, financial and personal ramifications of the virus. The fatigue induced by constantly facing new challenges like the one posed by Omicron is a danger in itself.
The warning this poses, one physician says, is that this will continue to happen “unless we really get serious about the endgame,” according to Dr. Albert Ko, an infectious disease specialist at Yale’s School of Public Health.
“Certainly COVID will be with us forever,” Ko declared, adding “We’re never going to be able to eradicate or eliminate COVID, so we have to identify our goals.”
Managing risks regarding endemic illness and death
At some point, the World Health Organization will determine when enough countries have tamped down their COVID-19 cases sufficiently — or at least, hospitalizations and deaths — to declare the pandemic officially over.
Eventually, scientists say, the world will transition to what they call an “endemic” state.
Infectious disease expert Stephen Kissler of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health states that the omicron crisis shows we’re not there yet but “I do think we will reach a point where SARS-CoV-2 is endemic much like flu is endemic.”
Weighing the risks of infection as we make our way through yet another variant is the key, says one researcher.
“We’re not going to get to a point where it’s 2019 again,” says Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “We’ve got to get people to think about risk tolerance.”
The fact that most western nations are not locking down despite the soaring numbers of infections appears to be indicative that we are doing exactly that. Biden administration officials state that with vaccine boosters, new treatments such as the Pfizer pill Paxlovid and masking mandates, they hope to be able to navigate this most recent outbreak while avoiding the punishing shutdowns of earlier in the pandemic.
Virus “will kind of max out”
Meanwhile, the US CDC reduced isolation times for those who are positive for the virus to five days, stating that is is now clear they are most contagious in the first two days after becoming infected.
According to Dr. William Moss of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, “this virus will kind of max out” and not produce endless variations of itself. “I don’t see this as kind of an endless cycle of new variants,” he explained to reporters.
Other researchers believe mutations will indeed continue to form and could even require booster shots now and then which are tailored to meet the challenges posed by them.
However, the way our bodies recognize infections and fight them off will in the end lead to our creating meaningful defenses against the coronavirus. Immunologist Ali Ellebedy at Washington University at St. Louis explains that our “memory B cells,” which live for years in our bone marrow, are ready to produce more antibodies when they are needed.
These cells learn to do more than just make copies of their original antibodies, they also stimulate our immune systems’ “T helper cells” after we are inoculated with the Pfizer vaccine.
The T cells drive the production of an array of even stronger antibodies that may spring into action yet again in response to future strains.
Ellebedy told Reuters that over the course of the pandemic, our baseline immunity has improved to the extent that even as we experience breakthrough infections, there will be a decrease in severe illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths.
He predicts there will be a time a day when one comes down with a coronavirus infection, one stays home two to three days “and then you move on. That hopefully will be the endgame.”