Scientist Eric Topol he says yes. If you read this post Thursday, you know why. As much as we all yearn that the degree of vaccine immunity plus natural immunity in the US population has finally made us wave-proof, evidence from Europe suggests otherwise. EU countries with much higher vaccination rates than ours are seeing increased cases, in some cases (eg Germany) at their highest level of the pandemic. Whatever the magical threshold of herd immunity in the Delta era, no one seems to have reached it yet.
Or have they? More on that in a moment.
While herd immunity is theoretically possible, it is likely to be so far from US reach that the CDC has begun minimizing the possibility of ever reaching it. “Thinking that we will be able to reach some sort of threshold where there will be no more transmission of infections may not be possible,” a member of the agency’s epidemiology task force recently said. In the early days of COVID, when the original virus was seeding infections, scientists estimated that 70-85 percent of the public would have to be immune before cases dropped permanently. With the rise of Delta, estimates are now over 90%. And as immunity wanes, the share of the population protected by COVID does not rise inexorably. It can also decrease, which is why countries are rushing to provide boosters to adults.
The bottom line, Topol says, is that there’s no reason to believe we’ll dodge a winter wave. Americans are emotionally exhausted from the pandemic and eager to return to normal after a year of vaccination, so they took the drop in cases this fall as evidence that COVID is finally on the retreat. But cases have started to rise again in the past few weeks. Some state health systems, such as Colorado’s, are already stressed. Unless the degree of natural immunity is much higher in the United States than in other Western countries, we are about to be attacked again.
It’s deja vu, once again. The pandemic first hit Europe in March 2020, and the Americans denied it, thinking it wouldn’t happen here. Then, over the course of the year, the wave of the Alpha variant took hold in the UK and the US was unprepared. This was repeated with Delta in the summer of 2021. Now, in the fall of 2021, Europe is the anomalous continent on the rise with Covid, with about 350 cases per 100,000 people and many countries are reaching new records. This does not only concern Eastern and Central Europe, where there are some countries with low vaccination rates (such as Georgia, only 24% fully vaccinated) and 160 / 100,000 cases (Slovenia), but also Western Europe, such as Austria, Belgium, Ireland and many others. Indeed, in Germany, leading virologist Christian Drosten recently warned that their death toll could be doubled if more aggressive vaccination and mitigation strategies were not adopted quickly …
This brings us to the United States, sitting in the denial zone for the fourth time during the pandemic, thinking that somehow we will be “immune” to what is happening in Europe. That somehow the magical combination of mRNA vaccines with only 58% of the population fully vaccinated, a relatively low percentage of booster vaccinations, an early vaccination for teens and children, and a lot of previous Covid, and little in the way of mitigation, you want to save us. It is not magic. Add to this the complete lack of availability of quick and inexpensive home tests for screening for infectivity. Unlike Europe, the United States was unable to separate cases from hospitalizations and deaths during its initial Delta wave: 75% of hospitalizations and 66% of deaths occurred since the peak of the third wave before. that vaccinations were available.
There are approximately 260 million adults in the United States, 81 percent of which have been vaccinated. If half of the remaining unvaccinated population is assumed to have natural immunity, 25 million American adults are still at risk this fall. He reckons that a quarter of them are old enough to suffer from life-threatening illnesses from the disease. In theory that’s a lot of infections and hospitalizations.
Some epidemiologists are discouraged from what they see coming:
“Today is a very sad day,” epidemiologist Ali Mokdad, who has been following the coronavirus pandemic since its inception at the University of Washington, told CNN. “Cases are going up. It was going down. This is a time when the United States has all the tools we need to prevent a surge, all the tools we need to save lives. We have the best vaccines and we have them. we have many, “he said.
“And people aren’t willing to get them.” …
“Nobody is listening,” Mokdad said sulkily. He said he and other epidemiologists were discussing how to draw attention to the dire situation.
“Some of us were talking about going on a hunger strike. We are really frustrated. It is depressing to know how to protect our population and we are not doing it, “he said.
Mokdad fears that even states like Florida, which recently experienced a major surge, may be hit hard again as immunity wanes in unimproved seniors. Holiday socialization last year triggered the worst wave of the pandemic in the United States despite the fact that vaccines hadn’t arrived yet and many Americans still behaved with extreme caution towards COVID. This year, with ubiquitous vaccines and the widespread belief that the worst is behind us, socialization is set to be more widespread and less cautious. What kind of wave will it produce?
The latest data from the NYT shows that cases have increased in the past two weeks in all but two of the most vaccinated US states. Having a high percentage of your population vaccinated isn’t a guarantee that you won’t experience a spate of cases, at least:
On the other hand, you will notice that none of these states have seen a major increase in hospitalizations in recent times. Maybe it’s just temporary – hospitalizations lag behind cases – but it could also be a function of their vaccination rate. Vaccines aren’t great at preventing transmission, but they’re great at preventing serious disease, meaning the states listed above may experience more “casedemia” this winter than a real crisis. In fact, would you like to guess which state has had the lowest share of people hospitalized since the start of the pandemic? Right: Vermont, which boasts the highest vaccination rate in the United States. Maine and Puerto Rico, which similarly vaccinated more than 70 percent of their population, are also among the bottom five per capita hospitalizations.
Which brings me back to the point above. Are there any countries that may have already silently achieved herd immunity? Well, Portugal and Spain have the highest vaccination rates in the EU, with 89 and 82 percent, respectively, after receiving a first dose. While most Western European countries see cases increasing, of Portugal Other of Spain the case curves look like this:
It seems likely that both countries are well over 90% at this point in terms of total immunity. (Spain was hit tremendously by COVID last year, sowing a lot of natural immunity.) Maybe they’ve finally crossed the herd immunity bar.
Or maybe not. Singapore It also has an extraordinarily high vaccination rate with 88% having received at least one dose. Their case curve looks like, ahem, this:
“Currently, unvaccinated people make up a considerable majority of those requiring intensive hospital care and contribute disproportionately to the pressure on our health resources,” She said the Singapore government recently on the increase, announcing that in the future those who are not vaccinated by choice will have to pay their bills for their own medical care (!). We could spend all day trying to understand why Singapore is seeing a peak while Portugal and Spain are not: a less effective type of vaccine, perhaps; greater decrease in immunity due to an early vaccination boost this year; more lax restrictions on social distancing; seasonality; again and again. But the bottom line is that, apparently, even an 88 percent vaccination rate won’t make you wave-proof.
Although it is very likely to make that wave smaller and * much * less deadly than it would have been otherwise.
I leave you with Scott Gottlieb, who is optimistic that we are in the late stages of our latest wave, but not quite finished yet.
-CNBC (@CNBC) November 12, 2021