Many health experts have tried to estimate when the COVID-19 pandemic will end, with the most optimistic speculation saying the health crisis might be over by the end of the year or possibly sooner than in some developed countries. Those predictions hinge on reaching herd immunity through a combination of direct exposure to the virus and mass vaccination. Respecting health measures set in place to reduce transmission is also always a factor in those discussions. Containing a local coronavirus epidemic can happen through strict health measures, and countries like South Korea, New Zealand, Australia, and some of the Nordic countries have already proven that. Vaccination campaigns are also working as we hoped. The first studies from Israel and the UK indicate that the experimental drugs work as intended — they can significantly reduce the number of severe COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.
Despite these recent developments, and the fact that the number of cases has been dropping steadily in various countries around the world, the World Health Organization (WHO) warns that it’s “premature” and “unrealistic” to think the pandemic might be stopped by the end of the year.
“If we’re smart, we can finish with the hospitalizations and the deaths and the tragedy associated with this pandemic,” Dr. Michael Ryan said during a press briefing on Monday. Ryan, the director of WHO’s emergencies program, said that the world’s singular focus should be trying to keep COVID-19 transmission as low a possible, Associated Press reported.
Ryan added that the organization was reassured by the data showing that vaccines appear to be curbing the spread. “If the vaccines begin to impact not only on death and not only on hospitalization, but have a significant impact on transmission dynamics and transmission risk, then I believe we will accelerate toward controlling this pandemic,” he said.
“Right now, the virus is very much in control,” Ryan cautioned, warning against complacency.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus addressed vaccination campaigns during the same event. He said that it was “regrettable” that young, healthy adults in rich countries are being vaccinated while at-risk healthcare workers in developing countries do not have access to the vaccine. “Countries are not in a race with each other,” he said. “This is a common race against the virus. We are not asking countries to put their own people at risk. We are asking all countries to be part of a global effort to suppress the virus everywhere.”
The UN’s COVAX vaccination program started in Ghana and the Ivory Coast this week, with the WHO director-general pointing out that vaccination campaigns in Western countries started three months ago.
The WHO stopped short of criticizing countries that are extending vaccine access to lower-risk individuals.
Some researchers warned recently that vaccination disparities between developed and developing nations could be a risk factor. The virus might not spread as easily in countries where more people are vaccinated. However, it could still evolve freely in nations with limited or no access to vaccines, potentially leading to COVID-19 strains that can evade existing vaccines. As a result, those strains would present new risks for vaccinated people in developed countries.
Tedros warned during the briefing that the number of COVID-19 cases is rising for the first time in seven weeks. The spike appears to be due to the “relaxing of public health measures.” Health experts in the US have warned in recent weeks that a fourth coronavirus wave might be imminent, with new mutations such as the UK’s B.1.1.7 strain expected to drive new surges.