If you only count the growing number of people infected with Covid, the situation seems worse than last year, but it has never been so rosy since the pandemic began. Many scientists from different countries are convinced that 2022 will mark the end of the nightmare: in the next few months this virus will also become endemic as is the flu and we will treat it in the same way, with a few precautions and a few pills.
Dr Raghib Ali, clinical epidemiologist at Cambridge University and honorary adviser to Oxford University hospitals, listed on the Guardian all the reasons that allow us to finally be optimistic. In Great Britain, due to the spread of Omicron, one million people are at home in quarantine, the lack of staff in many essential services such as hospitals, transport and schools is starting to weigh, the health service is severely tested and Dr. Ali himself had to go back to the emergency room to receive patients. But we must not stop at appearances, however terrible they may seem.
Data from South Africa confirm that the new variant is much less dangerous than the Delta, that the peak of infections is reached quickly and that Omicron surrenders faster than the mutations that preceded it. In France the time of quarantine has already been reduced, in Great Britain no further confinements will be decided, many other countries are beginning to find some normality again. “We are in a much better position – writes Dr. Raghib Ali – and there are good reasons to be confident that 2022 will not be like 2021. Today, with most people well protected and with highly effective vaccines, we have a risk much lower individual than ending up in hospital if we catch Covid. The combination of vaccines and a better understanding of how to treat the disease mean that both hospitalization and death rates are now much lower, with the mortality rate dropping by more than 80%.
Compared to a year ago, the scenario has definitely changed. Antiviral drugs have finally arrived that will change the situation as happened with HIV and hepatitis C, reducing the chance of being hospitalized by 90%. Two have already been approved in the UK, many more are in the testing phase and will be available before the end of the year. Furthermore, Dr. Ali recalls, new vaccines capable of countering the variants of the coronavirus that will inevitably emerge in the next year are almost ready. As with the flu, which is itself a coronavirus, “multivalent” vaccines will protect us from different forms of contagion. Vaccines that can be administered with a nasal spray, orally or using skin patches are also being tested, which will make distribution and do-it-yourself easier.
“Unfortunately Covid is not disappearing definitively – writes Dr. Ali -, but we can be optimistic that 2022 will be the year in which the pandemic will end. It will become an endemic disease here and in most countries, thanks to the very high levels of immunity of the population which will be achieved through a combination of vaccination and natural infection. There are likely to be seasonal winter peaks, as with the flu, and an annual booster vaccine will likely be needed to deal with new variants and waning immunity. ‘
For 2022, according to the expert, the immediate priority must be to ensure that vaccines are distributed more equitably around the world: “We have made enormous progress, with 8.5 billion doses administered to date, but too many people, especially those at high risk and frontline health workers in low-income countries, have not even received the first dose. Vaccinating the whole world in 2022 is a realistic prospect, but it will require an end to hoarding in high-income countries and the temporary revocation of patents. And this is also in our interest: we will not be able to prevent completely new variants, but we can reduce the risk by ensuring that everyone, everywhere, can be vaccinated. “
And, of course, we mustn’t let our guard down in these – hopefully – last winter of the pandemic. The weakest people must be protected, the third dose must be administered to all vaccinated and continue the work of convincing those opposed to the vaccine, even if it seems a dialogue between the deaf. We are getting out of it, but we must not miss the last moves.