HAS THE PANDEMIC ENDED?
The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID outbreak a pandemic two years ago and since then, people around the world have asked when it will end. This looks like a simple question, but historical analysis shows that “the end” of a disease is hardly encountered in unison by everyone affected.
For some reason, the threat of Covid can get over quickly and the return to normality is eagerly anticipated. But for many people, the continued threat of reinfection – as well as common factors like long-term health, economic, and social effects of the disease – render official announcements of the end premature. This for example would include immunocompromised people, some of whom stay vulnerable to COVID despite the fact they are being vaccinated.
In today’s world, due to experience, global health agencies and government authorities find it overwhelming to categorically declare openly that an infection outbreak or wide-spreading pandemic or epidemic has finally come to an end.
An Example of such difficulty experienced is during the renowned 2018 Ebola outbreak. After an initial report of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it was declared over by the World Health Organization in 2020, but afterward, it flared up again. This revival was then re-declared in December 2021.
In January 2022 when most countries got hit with the Omicron wave, there was a massive surge of COVID-19 cases. Fortunately, the risks of hospitalizations and deaths were shorter. But that should not cause individuals to hesitate from getting COVID-19 vaccinations, including the booster doses, as required.
In previous waves, countries with lower income and those with younger populations were relatively protected, even though inequalities in global vaccine access have meant that few there have received three doses, and most have yet received a single dose.
Data has indicated that more and more people have concluded that the health hazards of COVID-19 are not significant enough for them to alter their behavior, either because of their vaccination status, their youth, or a longing to move on from the pandemic.
In agreement with this trend, some governments have deduced that the total societal expenses derived from lockdowns, restrictions on business, or masking outweighs the benefits at this phase of the pandemic. Other governments, on the other hand, are maintaining or strengthening their public-health policies which include vaccine mandates. Many offices remain somewhat cautious in their policies, but public-health responses to Omicron have generally been less forceful than those of previous waves with similar disease burdens.
The possibilities for the remainder of the year and beyond hinge on the concern of whether and when future variants may take place. As long as the Omicron variant stays the dominant variant, there is justification for relative sanguinity. Some scenario analysis suggests that Omicron-related hospitalizations are likely to begin again to decline in countries like the United States and remain at relatively low levels through spring and summer. We might then anticipate a seasonality-driven wave of disease in the coming fall and winter, but hospitalizations would likely peak well below the degree of the wave we just encountered.
Also, the next wave of medical advances will encourage more questions. Pfizer and Moderna have indicated that modified vaccines targeted against Omicron could be available in the coming months; however, we don’t yet know about their efficacy, the approval standards might be for multi-valent vaccines, duration of protection, or the policies that will be set around the fourth doses.
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