The Delta and Omicron variants have complicated the task of eradicating COVID-19. As our communities struggle to break the chain of infection, the threat of a new variant emerging is constant. Some wonder if it is possible that this disease could become like the common cold, that it could become endemic.
In a roundtable discussion with Ethnic Media Services, experts in the field discussed vaccines, the effectiveness of boosters and the possibility of living with the COVID-19 virus.
Ben Neuman, Ph.D., chief of virology at Texas A&M University's Global Health Studies Complex agrees that the declining effectiveness of protection offered by vaccines against new variants, especially Omicron, is a problem for eradicating the virus. According to Dr. Ben, the evidence suggests that booster vaccines are our best option to stay protected. However, he does not rule out the possibility that much more durable immunity can be created by vaccines, but "we don't know yet".
Dr. Dali Fan, Professor of Clinical Science at UC Davis, took advantage of the space to remind the audience that "the immune system is very complex, the immune effect measured by antibody production is only a part of the protection". He stresses that it is not so simple to know how protected one is against the virus, it is not as simple as saying, if you have a certain amount of antibodies, you have a certain amount of protection. He insists that not necessarily having more antibodies is better for fighting the virus, there can also be complications when a limit is exceeded in the body. That is why the decision to administer more vaccines and the spacing of vaccines has to be carefully measured and studied. Above all, it calls for caution in believing this false equivalence and disseminating the idea that the more antibodies, the better.
He mentioned that according to studies conducted in Israel, the protection offered by two doses of the vaccine shows less satisfactory results than three doses. Unfortunately, we do not yet know whether a fourth or fifth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine is necessary or beneficial.
Both specialists agree that the public should be aware that protection percentages are based on mathematical estimates. That is, there will always be a margin of error, which is estimated to be 25 percent. There are so many variables in how viruses reproduce, how they mutate and each of our bodies and medical records that the best recommendation is to be alert, do everything possible to stay safe and get vaccinated.
Regarding the possibility of new variants emerging, Dr. Neuman added that, "as long as this virus continues to grow, it will continue to change. When it changes, it can get out of the reach of some parts of our immune system and at that point, we have something that we can call another variant. This is inevitable as long as the virus keeps growing.
Dr. Dali is hopeful that the virus responsible for COVID-19 will mutate in an unfavorable way and disappear on its own. It is possible, as it has happened with other viruses, that among all these variants, some may be less aggressive and will extinguish the others.
Dr. Neuman is of the opinion that this is not a hope on which to build health policies or make important decisions. Nor does he see any evidence, or any indication, that a reduced aggressiveness of COVID-19 symptoms will benefit the reproduction cycle of the virus.
Recalling that this is only his opinion, Neuman urges to fight the virus, not to think of it as endemic. He adds that it is not too late to take concrete actions and build agreements to completely eradicate this virus from our lives.
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