COVID-19 Pandemic Could Prolong for another Year, Report said


Shafaq News/ Another scenario starts to appear increasingly likely in which we could still be battling the pandemic well into 2022.

This view starts with urgent situation worldwide when case rates are frighteningly high, few people have immunity and the vaccine rollout is grindingly slow. The virus, meanwhile, is changing. It has already mutated into versions that spread more quickly, may kill more efficiently and threaten to undermine the effectiveness of vaccines.

According to Newsweek magazine, “The nightmare scenario started when the virus mutates into a variant that renders current vaccines weakened or obsolete before the rollout reaches the 150 million or so people needed to achieve herd immunity, which would halt the virus in its tracks.”

The first significant COVID-19 mutation was spotted in the U.K. in December. That variant appears to be more infectious, thanks to a change in its "spike protein. The U.K. variant spreads through populations up to 70 percent faster, according to public-health officials, but more recent published studies have suggested that the variant may also be about 30 percent more likely to kill those it infects. 

Dangerous mutations are popping up left and right in part because the COVID-19 case rate is so high. “When the virus enters a person's bloodstream, it creates billions of copies of itself in the victim's cells. The essence of mutation is that some of those copies aren't quite identical to the original. In the vast majority of cases, these random mutations have little effect on the virus, or even reduce its ability to infect and sicken. But given enough opportunities, a copy of the virus is bound to end up changed in a way that makes it more transmissible, deadlier, or able to beat the vaccine—or, in the worst-case scenario, all three.” The Magazine stated.

With more than 100 million worldwide, the virus has a vast playground for trying new mutations. The more infected people, the more likely that a vaccine-defeating virus will pop up sometime soon.

The best chance of getting infection rates low enough to avoid that mutational disaster is a fast vaccine rollout. "Our challenge is how to get everybody vaccinated quickly enough to reduce the amount of virus out there and slow its ability to mutate," says Eric Rosenberg, who heads Massachusetts General's Clinical Microbiology Laboratory.

Newsweek said, Scientists' biggest concern is the emergence of variants that can render the vaccine less effective. The first crop of those variants is already here: one first turned up in South Africa, another in Brazil, and a third in Washington State. The two vaccines approved in the U.S.—from Pfizer and Moderna—work by stimulating the body's immune system to produce antibodies that primarily look for the spike protein on the virus. 

The altered spike proteins in the South Africa, Brazil and Washington variants seem to make them as much as ten times less recognizable to those antibodies, according to lab studies that have been posted, though not yet peer-reviewed. 

Even if we luck out with the variants that have already arisen, more are inevitably on the way. "We can expect strains that have further mutated into something that better evades the immune response from the vaccine," says Anthony Harris, a physician who heads clinical operations at Work care, a company that helps organizations reduce employee infection risks. 

Vaccine developers, meanwhile, would get the time they need to come up with versions that are effective against the variants—a process that might take as little as three months from start to rollout, if the tweaks to the vaccine are minor enough to win FDA approval without large clinical trials. 

Pfizer and Moderna have already announced fast-moving efforts to produce booster shots for vaccinated people that will improve their immunity to the known variants, and they'd likely be able to do the same for future variants. There are also proposals to deliver a third shot of the existing vaccines, which might raise resistance enough to defeat the variants.

But if virus-evading mutations get around more quickly than the initial vaccines do, we'll essentially have to start from scratch in vaccinating the population, likely crushing hopes of defeating the pandemic this year. The Magazine said.

To add to the worry, the delay between the first and second doses is about to leave tens of millions of people partially vaccinated. That, too, can increase the risk of a dangerous mutation. Just as taking an incomplete course of antibiotics can help produce antibiotic-resistant bacteria by wiping out the weak bacteria and favoring the strong ones, a big population of partial vaccines could nurture vaccine-resistant versions of the virus. That's a risk even with two doses, if mutations make the vaccine less effective.

According to Newsweek, All these challenges threaten to indefinitely delay hitting herd immunity—the point at which a large-enough percentage of the population has achieved immunity, whether through vaccine or infection, to rob the virus of enough potential victims to continue spreading widely. 

Herd immunity would essentially mark the end of the crisis. In August, The New York Times was among the media outlets trumpeting a theory that the U.S. might already be close to herd immunity, and that New York City may have already achieved it. It hasn't turned out that way. Fauci and other experts now warn that it will require vaccinating some 85 percent of the population. Unless things improve dramatically, hitting that mark before winter is starting to look like a longshot.

If we don't get to herd immunity, or close to it, by late fall, we face the possibility of a significant third wave of the pandemic. That's what happened in the influenza pandemic of 1918, which returned with a vengeance in 1919 to kill millions more around the world. A century ago there were no vaccines for the flu. But COVID-19 vaccines won't quell the current pandemic if we can't get it into enough people in time to head off a new wave or a resistant variant.

There's more we can do to avoid that dark scenario. Given the slow vaccine rollout, beating COVID-19 this year will likely depend on the same tools the world has relied on from the beginning of this pandemic: masks, social distancing, lockdowns, quarantines, testing and contact tracing. The Magazine suggested.

The bottom line, There's a good chance the pandemic will be with us into 2022. If so, the virus will by then have had plenty of opportunity to evolve into strains that the current vaccine can't stop. But new versions of the vaccines adapted to these strains will be coming out.

 In addition, much of the population will likely have started to build up broader natural or vaccine-induced immunity to the virus that will at least lessen the impact of the new strains. Ultimately, COVID-19 is probably destined to end up much like the common cold or the flu. That's typically how pandemics wind down.

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