KT Special: When will the Covid-19 pandemic end? Scientists say 2025 or later

Photo: Wam
Photo: Wam

Dubai - What governments can do immediately is close the vaccine access inequity gap as much as possible, they said.

By Allan Jacob

Published: Thu 22 Apr 2021, 3:24 PM

Last updated: Thu 22 Apr 2021, 3:47 PM

With more vaccines making it to millions of arms daily, when will the pandemic end and when will life return to normal? Not so soon, is the answer, with leading epidemiologists and researchers making grim predictions that the global health crisis is likely to continue for at least four more years.

Experts at the International Vaccine Institute, speaking to Khaleej Times, said it is hard to predict the course of the pandemic and how Covid-19 will eventually unfold. They said it is unclear if and when the disease would become endemic or could be eradicated. But with continued efforts in place to control it — such as vaccination and other preventive measures — the impact of it will probably lessen over time, said Florian Marks, Deputy Director General of Epidemiology, Public Health, Impact at the institute based in Seoul, South Korea.

Marks designs and oversees epidemiological studies investigating a wide range of bacterial and viral infectious diseases at the institute. “It is difficult to predict at this point what’s going to happen, but Covid-19 may be present for longer periods of time (modelling studies indicate we could likely expect annual surges in Covid-19 infections through to 2025 and beyond),” the epidemiologist said.

Much would depend on levels of immunity in the population over time. Immunity may be from natural infection or vaccination and could be permanent or temporary. “If it is only temporary, we may need more frequent vaccination to protect us like we do for influenza,” said Marks.

His colleague, Dr. Anh Wartel, Deputy Director General of Clinical Assessment, Regulatory, Evaluation, said there is hope against new variants of the coronavirus as a ‘second wave’ of vaccines could be rolled out this year.

Ending the pandemic is possible only if children are part of vaccination programmes, and Wartel is optimistic as some vaccine manufacturers have performed additional vaccine trials in adolescents that have claimed high protection.

The next step is to get the additional clinical data submitted and reviewed by regulators for expanding the indication of use in adolescents. “I trust the indication will be expanded to adolescents within this year based on the additional pivotal data, hopefully within this year. Additional clinical studies are also being performed in very young children (i.e., infants/toddlers).”

She, however, raised concerns that rich countries, representing a fifth of the global adult population, have purchased more than half of all vaccine doses. This results in disparities between adult population share and doses purchased for all other country income groups, including low and middle-income countries.

So will a global pandemic policy address and prevent future zoonotic (animal-origin) diseases? “A global pandemic policy, though ambitious, could help guide countries to respond more effectively and coherently in preventing or stopping similar outbreaks in the future,” said Marks.

But policies cannot stand alone; they need to be backed up by strengthening both national and international capacity in infectious disease control and global health security, he added.

What governments can do immediately is close the vaccine access inequity gap as much as possible to not allow the coronavirus to continue circulating in poorer countries.

Covid-19 remains a fairly “new” disease, yet there is still a need to learn more about the wild-type infection, its severity mechanism, and re-infection risk which is crucial for vaccine development, said Dr Wartel.

On the origins of the coronavirus, she said researchers have found over 3,000 coronaviruses that affect bats. Furthermore, evolutionary analysis suggests that the lineage from which SARS-CoV-2 emerged has been present in bats for several decades. As the virus has been circulating around for decades, it may have emerged in another host and this could be the missing intermediate species to facilitate transmission.

“To me, in light of this pandemic, the ultimate question is how we can prevent another zoonotic disease and its spread... One of the lessons learned is that preserving natural habitats reduces the risk of diseases spilling over from wildlife,” she said.


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