Reason for hope as we battle the Covid-19 pandemic

Pandemic hope

The creation of multiple COVID-19 vaccines in an astonishingly short period was a stunning achievement by governments and the biotech industry.

The vaccines were approved in just a few months, rather than the eight to 10 years normally required of previous vaccines.

According to federal government data, 87 per cent of Canadians 12 and older are now “fully vaccinated,” including yours truly. This has been hugely important in reducing the dreadful carnage in care homes and deaths of others with weakened immune systems.

And yet we’re not as far along as we had hoped to be. Just last spring, rapidly diminishing COVID infection rates seemed to indicate the pandemic was nearing an end.

As summer turned to fall, however, the Delta variant gained a foothold. Soon, case numbers and hospitalizations were rising again. Some blamed that on the unvaccinated, still today a tenacious 10 per cent of the population.

But we now know COVID vaccines are not 100 per cent effective. Large numbers of people who have been vaccinated have contracted the disease, and passed it on to others.

On Dec. 13, just before the Omicron variant began its upward spiral, Ontario reported 809 fully vaccinated COVID-19 cases. (Ontario is the only province that reports by vaccination status.)

This was explained by research, financed by Pfizer and published in the Lancet medical journal, that found the protection level of their vaccine against the Delta variant drops to less than 50 per cent after five months. This is why booster shots are now being used.

When I tell my other vaccinated friends about this study, the question that always arises is: “Why weren’t we told about a study that was published three months ago?”

We now know that previous assumption of “fully vaccinated” vaccines provide lasting immunity is not the case, although they have been shown to reduce the severity of virus symptoms.

It’s now clear that riding on a plane beside a vaccinated person offers no guarantee they won’t give you the virus. I’d much rather ride beside someone, vaccinated or unvaccinated, who needed a negative COVID test to board.

With rising Omicron-driven COVID case numbers, children as young as five are being coaxed to roll up their sleeves, despite the fact that healthy children who contract the virus almost never get seriously ill.

A landmark study published in September by the Canadian Pediatric Surveillance Program found that, out of a study group of 34,000 COVID all-age hospitalizations, only 149 school-aged children were admitted for COVID-19.

The theory is that by vaccinating the younger population, we deny the virus targets of opportunity that keep the outbreak going. But there’s also a risk. The “emergency” approval adult vaccines have now been given to hundreds of millions of people, while the child vaccines are being rolled out with comparatively tiny testing for side-effects.

The jury is still out as to whether Omicron causes serious illness, but a recent report from South Africa is encouraging. South Africa, where Omicron originated, has seen case numbers peak and drop rapidly. Even more encouraging, a senior South African infectious disease researcher stated: “It was a short wave and … it was not very severe in terms of hospitalizations and deaths.”

Meanwhile, the varying efficacy of vaccines combined with the arrival of the Omicron variant has health officials organizing booster shots. This has been accomplished with remarkable speed, but more variants are likely to arrive. Will the new variant/ booster shot “gerbil wheel” ever end?

There’s reason for hope.

A study published in the journal Nature found that many people who have recovered from SARs-CoV-2 will make antibodies against the virus for most of their lives. This “natural immunity” effect is comparable with that developed for measles and other viral diseases.

That explains why EU countries are issuing “digital certificates of recovery” giving those who have previously tested positive for COVID-19 the same status as fully vaccinated, without requiring future booster shots.

Despite the chaos and angst about our Omicron “Christmas gift,” history may show that arrival of the moderate- symptom virus may be the bridge to the natural immunity that fosters our much coveted “new normal.”

In a Dec. 22 interview, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry stated that Omicron’s ease of transmission means “it is very likely over time that all of us will have exposure to this variant. The key is to make that happen as slowly as possible.”

This column was first published in the Victoria Times-Colonist newspaper. Gwyn Morgan is retired business leader who has been a director of five global corporations.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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