No one is safe until…: Johns Hopkins scientist explains 3 ways the Covid pandemic may evolve

No one is safe until everyone is vaccinated, said Johns Hopkins scientist Amita Gupta, while stressing that more new variants are likely to emerge if everyone does not have access to the vaccine. “Vaccine inequality remains a problem both in India,” she said, adding that 56 countries are unable to vaccinate even 10% of their population.

Arguing her point, she said, the highly transmissible variant of Omicron is believed to have emerged in November last year in South Africa and Botswana due to inadequate immunization in African countries before spread globally.

As immunities wane and new variants of Covid emerge, it’s more important than ever that communities are fully vaccinated and strengthened, she said.

“It is not enough to completely vaccinate only a few countries. Health workers and most-at-risk populations in all countries must be fully immunized to stop the pandemic,” she added.

Speaking of an India-specific problem, she said, Gupta said, there are hard-to-reach areas and there is an urgent need to increase booster vaccination for those who are eligible.

“Less than 2% of the population (in India) has currently received a Covid booster even though there is no supply shortage. This number must increase.”

No one is safe until…

It’s hard to predict whether another mutation can increase or decrease the virus’s intrinsic virulence or severity, a public health expert said.

“What we do know is that no one is safe from COVID-19 until everyone is safe. The vast majority of vaccines were administered in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Fifty-six countries were effectively locked out of the global vaccine market and were unable to vaccinate even 10% of their population,” she added.

Omicron variant vaccines

Studies have shown that current Covid vaccines have had some reduction in effectiveness in protecting people from infection and from developing severe disease with Omicron and its subvariants.

Vaccines, Gupta pointed out, still reduce the risk of severe disease in more than 50% of those infected.

“Much work is underway to prepare new vaccines to optimize efficacy in preparation for additional new variants.”

Many experts in the past have said that Covid in India is heading towards endemicity, a stage where the presence of a disease becomes stable in a particular region or at least predictable.

There are three possible futures

“There are three possible futures: continued peaks of high disease and the evolution of the virus with an increased infection rate, the seasonal outbreak of COVID-19, and endemic COVID-19. We’re not yet at a place where we can say COVID is rampant,” Gupta explained.

For future pandemics, Gupta said it is crucial to apply lessons learned from Covid and invest in health infrastructure to better equip the country to prevent tragedy.

(With PTI entries)

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