Herd immunity against COVID-19 not within reach

A United Kingdom public health expert says the concept of collective immunity against COVID-19 is a snare, inaccessible in the short term. A country where the idea of ​​”living with the virus” advocated by Prime Minister Boris Johnson is now coming up against the dizzying rates of infection and reinfection caused by the BA.2 variant.

“We have to accept that we have now entered an era of re-infection,” says have to Professor Devi Sridhar, Director of the Chair in Global Public Health at the University of Edinburgh, UK.

“What we see now with this subvariant is that very high levels (99%) of antibodies against the COVID-19 virus in the population, provided by the vaccine or an infection, n reinfection Do not stop the virus. The spread of the virus remains high, and many people keep dying from it,” she laments.

In an op-ed published this week GuardianResearcher is a stone’s throw in the pond by confirming the “achievement of mass immunity” that will ensure society can turn the page, promoted from the first days of the pandemic and most recently by the Johnson government, no longer is kept .

“If that were the case, we would have reached it already! She argues. Especially in the United Kingdom, where more than 68% of the population received the first booster dose (60% in Quebec) and 86% received two doses (Quebec). in 83% were adequately vaccinated.

However, the arrival of the BA.2 version came to undermine this concept of an immunity that would make pandemics a thing of the past, moves M.Me Sridhar. “The government has abolished the wearing of masks, paid sick leave and access to free testing. We now have over 200,000 official cases per week and hundreds of deaths per day,” says the professor, who has just published stopA book that describes the impact of politics during the pandemic.

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According to him, the era of re-infection should force a revision of strategies, due to the high infectivity of BA.2 and its ability to infect and re-infect a significant proportion of non-vaccinated and vaccinated people.

“Otherwise, ‘living with the virus’, as we are doing now, will make people endlessly sick, in isolation and unable to work. This will have a huge, even disruptive effect on our economy.” . »

The UK Public Health Agency (UKHSA) said in January that after Omicron’s arrival, the re-infection rate fell from 1.6% to about 4%. With the introduction of the BA.2 variant in early April, this figure increased to 11%. And this, even if it only counts re-infection that occurs more than 90 days after infection. “Vaccines have reduced mortality rates and pressure on health networks. But now we are facing the problem of keeping many other essential services running,” she says.

In recent days, absenteeism due to COVID-19 in the UK has caused chaos in many sectors of the economy. “We are in a mess. With spring, it was hoped that warmer weather would bring down cases. However, we are on a plateau. We hold our breath; we clearly have yet to live with this virus. The prescription is not found. Plus, no one in the world has found it,” says public health experts. In early April, the UK recorded an average of 600 deaths per day, a peak of 387 deaths reached during the peak in January More than.

Despite everything, Devi Sridhar considers it impossible to reinstate strict measures, especially restrictions on certain movements or certain social activities. “People need to continue their social activities, go to pubs, go to weddings. Humans are social animals. We can’t change it. ,

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a struggle to continue

That’s why the professor urges his government – and others – to restore the tools needed to “juggle” with the current version. In particular, the return of wearing masks, free access at all times to effective tests (some studies estimate the ability of rapid tests to detect omicrons at only 37%) and easy access to antiviral treatments (including Paxlovid). .

“Unless there is a universal vaccine, or one that confers long-term immunity, we will experience repeated spikes,” she says. The duration of immunity induced by current vaccines is estimated at about five or six months (and slightly shorter for booster doses) and immunity resulting from infection at about three months.

“Many governments no longer want to intervene because the virus is less lethal. But we must continue to limit infections, especially because of the alarming rates of people who develop COVID for a long time. According to the UKHSA, more than 1.5 million Britons suffer from it. And more and more studies report cardiac, pulmonary and neurological sequelae, Devi Sridhar says, as well as a 40% increased risk of developing diabetes.

We should expedite the third dose to all, says Professor Sridhar. With the BA.2 subvariant, the immunity provided by the two doses is drastically reduced, and time may show that a fourth dose will be needed, not just those considered ‘weak’.

“The last two years have demonstrated that states are still behind the virus. Studies establish the benefit of a booster. In the United States, it is offered to people over 50. We chose to do preventive work. I am sure what happens next will prove them right. ,

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About the Author: Forrest Morton

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