Pandemic prognosis: What to expect from Covid in 2022?

Two years later, as the Covid crisis is now driven by Omicron, there is still hope that the pandemic will begin to fade in 2022, although experts say huge inequalities in vaccines must be addressed.

It may seem like a distant reality, as countries impose new restrictions to tackle the rapidly spreading new variant and emerging cases, and a depressing sense of deja vu sets in.

“We are facing another very harsh winter,” World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said last week.

But health experts say we are far better equipped now than a year ago to control the pandemic, with ever-growing stocks of safe and largely effective vaccines and new treatments available.

“We have the tools that can bring (the pandemic) to its knees,” Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s leading expert on the Covid crisis, told reporters this month.

“We have the power to end it in 2022,” she insisted.

But, she added, they must be used correctly.

Obvious inequality

One year after the first vaccines were released, about 8.5 billion doses have been administered worldwide.

And the world is on track to produce around 24 billion doses by June, more than enough for everyone on the planet.

But notoriously uneven access to vaccines has meant that as many wealthy nations dump additional doses at already vaccinated vulnerable people, and health workers in many poorer nations are still waiting for a first hit.

About 67 percent of people in high-income countries have received at least one dose of the vaccine, but not even 10 percent in low-income countries have received it, UN figures show.

That imbalance, which the WHO has called moral outrage, risks deepening even further as many countries rush to roll out additional doses to respond to Omicron.

Early data indicates that the heavily mutated variant, which has made lightning strikes around the world since it was first detected in southern Africa last month, is more resistant to vaccines than previous strains.

While the reinforcements appear to push protection levels back up, WHO insists on ending the pandemic, the priority must remain to provide the first doses to vulnerable people around the world.

‘Myopic’

Allowing Covid to spread incessantly in some places dramatically increases the chance of new and more dangerous variants emerging, experts warn.

So even when rich countries launch third chances, the world will not be safe until everyone has some degree of immunity.

“No country can get out of the pandemic,” Tedros said last week.

“General reinforcement programs are likely to prolong the pandemic, rather than end it.” The appearance of Omicron is proof of this, WHO emergency chief Michael Ryan told AFP.

“The virus has seized the opportunity to evolve.” Gautam Menon, a professor of physics and biology at Ashoka University in India, agreed that it was in the best interests of rich countries to ensure that poorer nations took blows too.

“It would be shortsighted to assume that just by vaccinating themselves they have gotten rid of the problem.”

‘Part of the furniture

Ryan suggested that increased vaccination should bring us to a point where Covid “settles into a pattern that is less disruptive.”

But he warns that if the world fails to address the imbalance in access to vaccines, the worst could still be to come.

A nightmare scenario envisions that the Covid pandemic will spiral out of control amid a constant barrage of new variants, even as a separate strain triggers a parallel pandemic.

Confusion and misinformation would reduce trust in authorities and science, as healthcare systems collapse and political unrest ensues.

This is one of several “plausible” scenarios, according to Ryan.

“The double pandemic is of particular concern because now we have a virus that is causing a pandemic and many others are in line.”

But better global vaccine coverage could mean that Covid, while not likely to go away entirely, will become a largely controlled endemic disease, with milder seasonal outbreaks that we will learn to live with, like the flu, they say. The experts.

Basically, “it will become part of the furniture,” Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist at the University of California, Irvine, told AFP.

Hospitals overwhelmed

But we haven’t arrived yet.

Experts caution against over-optimism around early indications that Omicron causes less severe disease than previous strains, noting that it is spreading so fast it could still overwhelm healthcare systems.

“When you have so many, many infections, even if it’s less severe … (the hospitals) are going to be very stressed,” Anthony Fauci, America’s leading infectious disease expert, told NBC News last week.

That’s a depressing prospect two years after the virus first appeared in China.

The scenes of intubated patients in crowded hospitals and the long lines of people struggling to find oxygen for their loved ones have never ceased.

Images of makeshift funeral pyres burning in Delta-stricken India have epitomized the human cost of the pandemic.

Officially, almost 5.5 million people have died worldwide, although the actual number of victims is likely to be several times higher.

All the doubts about vaccines could increase that number.

In the United States, which remains the worst-hit country with more than 800,000 deaths, the steady stream of short obituaries on the FacesOfCovid Twitter account includes many who did not have the jab.

“Amanda, 36-year-old math teacher in Kentucky. Chris, a 34-year-old high school football coach in Kansas. Cherie, a 40-year-old seventh-grade reading teacher in Illinois. They all had an impact on their communities, ”reads a recent post.

“All loved deeply. All unvaccinated. “

Headline image: A man wearing a protective mask walks past an illustration of a virus in front of a regional science center amid the coronavirus disease outbreak, in Oldham, UK, on ​​Aug. 3, 2020. – Reuters


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