Almost two years after the pandemic rocked the globe, a new, as-yet-untried Covid-19 strategy may be on the horizon — accepting that the virus will be with us for some time, and loosening measures as part of the coronavirus’ “Flu-ization” into an endemic disease.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical officer, spoke on the pandemic going forward in an interview with ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, saying that in the “best-case scenario” the people of the US and the world will have to “learn to live with” Covid-19.
While still maintaining that vaccines, masking and treatments are all part of the strategy to fight the coronavirus, he stated that the best way forward is to bring the virus under control and to understand how we will have to learn to live with it.
Fauci – peak of Omicron will occur in February
Fauci also estimated that the worst of the Omicron variant will peak by the middle of February in the US.
“Control means you’re not eliminating it, you’re not eradicating it,” Fauci told the press, adding “But it gets down to such a low level that it’s essentially integrated into the general respiratory infections that we have learned to live with.
“I mean, we would like them not to be present, but they’re there, but they don’t disrupt society,” he stated, saying then that he hoped that medical workers will be dealing with Covid-19 not as part of another gigantic wave, but on a “case-by-case basis” after the peak.
Referring to continued vaccinations, existing therapies such as the pills produced by Pfizer and Merck, as well as testing, as the keys to being finally able to conquer the pandemic, and later, learning to “live with it” as it becomes endemic.
“If we have those things in place – vaccine testing, masks, therapy – we could keep it at that low level,” he explained.
As for now, the medical adviser said, the efficacy and need for a fourth shot has not been proven; the world awaits any forthcoming studies that will prove such a move is needed after the third shot.
“Certainly, you’re going to see the antibody levels go down – that’s natural,” Fauci said. “But there’s an element of the immune response — B cell memory and T cell responses — where, even though you do see a diminution of antibody levels, it is quite conceivable — and I hope it’s true — that the third shot boost will give a much greater durability of protection.
“But before we make that decision about yet again another boost, we want to determine clearly what the durability of protection is of that regular boost, that third shot that we’re talking about,” Fauci concluded.
On Saturday, Thessaloniki-born Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla appeared to be toeing the same line, when he acknowledged that people getting COVID-19 booster shots every four to five months is “not a good scenario,” arguing that an annual vaccine would be a better approach to fighting the virus.
Bourla told the Hebrew-language publication N12 News in an exclusive interview that the best way to combat COVID-19 is a vaccine that can be administered every year, not with boosters received every few months, according to Reuters.
Covid booster shots every 4 or 5 months not good, says Bourla
“This will not be a good scenario,” he said when asked about people getting booster shots every four to five months, per the wire service. “What I’m hoping [is] that we will have a vaccine that you will have to do once a year.”
“Once a year – it is easier to convince people to do it. It is easier for people to remember,” he continued. “So from a public health perspective, it is an ideal situation.”
The news coming out of Europe appears to be along a similar line, with the word “endemic” starting to be heard in official circles, while a host of nations are lifting their masking and other coronavirus measures for the first time in many months.
The Spanish government, which had some of the most draconian quarantining rules in place, which forbade citizens even to go outdoors to exercise for three full months — is one on the first national onboard with an effort to try to shape what the post-pandemic world will look like.
Spain has one of Europe’s highest vaccination rates and it was one of the hardest hit nations of them all as a result of the pandemic. Now, they say, it is time to prepare for a future in which Covid-19 will be seen not as an emergency, but a disease, that, like influenza, is here to stay.
“How to manage the pandemic with different parameters”
Spain’s center-left prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, told the Associated Press earlier this week that he wants the European Union to think about making some real changes now that the surge of the omicron variant has demonstrated that the disease is becoming less lethal.
Although he acknowledged that changes should not happen before the current omicron surge is over, officials need to start looking at how to shape the post-pandemic world now, stating “We are doing our homework, anticipating scenarios.”
Much like nations and health authorities all over the world deal with endemic diseases such as the flu or measles, part of the understanding is that there will always be some rate of infection across the board.
Rather than treating the situation as a crisis, Sánchez says it will soon be time to start the mental process of accepting that infections will indeed occur, while providing the needed extra care for those at-risk people and patients who suffer from underlying conditions.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control itself appears to have begun taking tentative steps in this direction, advising countries to transition their worldview to include routine handling of Covid-19 issues after the acute phase of the pandemic is done with.
The agency said in a recent statement that additional EU states should adopt “a more long-term, sustainable surveillance approach.”
In its regular briefing, held on January 18, Marco Cavallieri acknowledged that an unending campaign of boosters was “not sustainable” and would even lead to “social fatigue” regarding the virus. Instead, he suggested, in the future it may be helpful to coordinate the administration of boosters to coincide with the onset of Winter and when people return to school. When people receive boosters with an insufficient interval in time between them, he noted, that does not allow the body to develop the appropriate amount of antibodies against the virus.
As of now, he added, there is insufficient data to make any decision regarding the administration of a fourth dose of coronavirus vaccine.