Saturday, Aug. 20, 2021
Throwing away the crystal ball has turned out to be unexpectedly liberating. When you admit you don’t know what’s coming next, you are free to speculate. And it looks like everybody is joining in the game. A new genre of COVID articles has emerged which look at our future with this coronavirus and others to come. Okay, it’s not going to disappear, they seem to say. So, moving forward, what might the future look like?
Sarah Zhang’s article in The Atlantic sees a future in which COVID-19 will be endemic, that is always with us, and we will adjust. How this plays out depends on our immunity and the evolution of the virus. Two of her statements struck me in particular: First: Laura Su’s statement that when a vaccinated person gets infected by the virus, the effect is “like a booster for the vaccine.” In other words, your immunity is even more robust after a breakthrough case. Plus the fact that you had the vaccine protects you from serious illness. Consider a reinfection as a wake-up call for your immune system. See this also discussed in the WSJ opinion piece “Delta’s Gift is Hybrid Immunity.” (link below).
Variants that spread more are, by definition, more contagious. More than one epidemiologist has said that in time we will all get infected. As COVID spreads and a diagnosis becomes more routine ( albeit more serious in some than in others), Zhang suggests that we may have to adjust our pandemic mindset, stating: “That means unlearning a year of messaging that said COVID-19 was not just a flu.” Tucked in the middle of the second to the last paragraph, that statement blew me away. But if your mind hasn’t been through several somersaults already in the last 18 months, maybe you haven’t been paying attention.
For a variety of future scenarios, consider the SAGE report referred to in the Forbes article (links below). This report analyzes four hypothetical scenarios of variant development, the probability of each, and our options. The scenarios include:
- A variant that is more severe and more lethal in more people. Likelihood: “Realistic possibility.”
- A variant resistant to the vaccines we have now: Likelihood: “Realistic possibility.”
- A variant resistant to anti-viral drugs. “Likelihood: Likely,” if drugs are misused.
- A variant which is less severe. “Likelihood: Unlikely in the short term, realistic possibility in the long term.” Note that this version of the virus would also have to be contagious enough to replace other variants, while still causing only a mild illness.
The rest of the SAGE report goes through the evidence and mechanisms of these occurrences. Among the suggestions for managing the first two scenarios, I would especially emphasize the need to develop treatments for COVID-19 and methods for preventing the more severe effects, including Long Covid. Vaccines, in my view, cannot be regarded as our one-and-only means of defense if we are to get past the emergency phase and into the living-with-it phase. Don’t get me wrong. They are an important part of the toolkit.
This week the CDC announced the formation of a new center to predict and plan for future pandemics called: The Center for Forecasting and Outbreak Analytics. A panel of experts has been appointed to set up the center and its functions, one of which is to communicate with decision-makers in the public and private sectors about threats to public health and implementation of solutions. I’m looking forward to learning more about how this works going forward. Hopefully, in the future decision-making will take into account economic impacts and mental health risks as well as public health concerns when deciding on mitigation measures for any threat to public health.
In the meantime, we are figuring out how to live with this virus every day each time we make a decision about vaccinations, masks, travel, shopping, socializing, schools, and medical care. It’s not easy, but if the virus can change so can we. The only thing I can predict for certain is that the second half of 2021 will bring us to a different place.
Today’s Notable Headlines
“The Coronavirus Is Here Forever. This Is How We Live With It.” Sarah Zhang, The Atlantic, Aug. 17, 2021. https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2021/08/how-we-live-coronavirus-forever/619783/
“Covid Isn’t Going Away. So What Now?” The New York Times, Aug. 19, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/19/opinion/covid-booster-delta-end.html
“Delta’s Gift is Hybrid Immunity,” The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 20, 2021. https://www.wsj.com/articles/covid-19-coronavirus-delta-hybrid-natural-immunity-vaccine-breakthrough-cases-11629492042
“A Warning About The Future Of Covid-19 From The Scientific Advisory Group For Emergencies Of The United Kingdom,” Forbes, Aug. 4, 2021. https://www.forbes.com/sites/williamhaseltine/2021/08/04/a-warning-about-the-future-of-covid-19-from-the-scientific-advisory-group-for-emergencies-of-the-united-kingdom/?sh=52747f1b2e54
“CDC Launches New Center to Watch for Future Outbreaks,” WebMD, Aug. 19, 2021. https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/news/20210819/cdc-new-center-watch-for-future-outbreaks
Source of Forbes article: “Long term evolution of SARS-CoV-2, 26 July 2021,” Selecting the document will bring you to: “Can we predict the limits of SARS-CoV-2 variants and their phenotypic consequences?” Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), July 30, 2021. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/long-term-evolution-of-sars-cov-2-26-july-2021
Source of Web MD Article: CDC Press Release, “CDC Stands Up New Disease Forecasting Center,” CDC, Aug. 18, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2021/p0818-disease-forecasting-center.html
Why am I doing this?
The coronavirus pandemic will be indelibly written on our memories just as the Great Depression or the Battle of Britain left their mark on past generations. I intend to journal the pandemic experience from three perspectives: as a retired medical technologist, as a historian (Ph.D., 2014), and an ordinary person living through an extraordinary world crisis.