Global data trends show that the pandemic is not over yet. We are, once again, at the epicentre.
The actual reality
Europe is facing a real threat of COVID-19 resurgence or, even better, already fighting it. As COVID-19 cases are once again approaching record levels, with the more transmissible Delta variant continuing to dominate, this is of serious concern.
The fact is that cases across the continent have increased more than 50% last month and the worry is that it is continuing this month, as winter is setting in. At a press conference, WHO Europe head Hans Kluge said the continent could see half a million more deaths by February.
The question is, why is this happening when everything seemed to be “stabilising”?
There are two main reasons:
1) insufficient vaccination coverage
2) the relaxation of public health and social measures.
Vaccines save thousands of lives
Despite near-record COVID-19 cases, new deaths are at approximately half the peak levels. This reflects the life-saving effects of vaccines.
Most people hospitalised and dying from COVID-19 today are not fully vaccinated.
The vaccines are indeed doing what they were intended to do: preventing severe illness and death.
Vaccines are our most powerful asset, if used alongside other tools. While nations in Western Europe all have vaccination rates over 60% and Portugal has 87%, the highest, a significant portion of their populations are still without protection.
Public health and social measures
We must change our tactics, from reacting to surges of COVID-19 to preventing them from happening in the first place. We need to stay cautious, act early on any change and stay ahead of the virus.
Ultimately, we are only getting out of this pandemic if politicians, scientists and the public work together.
Reliable projections show that if we achieved 95% universal mask use, we could save up to 188,000 lives of the half-a-million lives we may lose before February 2022.
Preventive measures, when applied correctly and consistently, allow us to go on with our lives, not the opposite. Preventive measures do not deprive people of their freedom, they ensure it. In other words, the best way to avoid lockdowns, which are an absolute last resort, is to apply such measures and keep COVID-19 transmission low.
Besides the use of masks, other measures such as testing, contact tracing, ventilation in indoor spaces and physical distancing, remain part of our arsenal of defences, next to the rapid, fair and generalised uptake of vaccines by everyone eligible.
These are tried-and-tested measures that enable lives to continue while controlling the virus and avoiding widespread, damaging lockdowns.
As we enter the flu season, we face the prospect of both influenza and COVID-19 circulating at the same time. The same preventive measures work against both viruses, and we have effective and safe vaccines for both.
Nearly two years into a global health crisis that has killed more than five million people, infections are again sweeping across parts of Western Europe, a region with relatively high vaccination rates and good healthcare systems, but where lockdown measures are largely a thing of the past.
Dr Bharat Pankhania, senior clinical lecturer at Exeter University College of Medicine and Health, says that “the large number of unvaccinated people combined with a widespread post-lockdown resumption of socialising and a slight decline in immunity for people who got their shots months ago is driving up the pace of infections”.
COVID-19 vaccine booster dose
A COVID booster shot is an additional dose of the vaccine that is given after the protection provided by the original shot(s) has begun to decrease over time.
The booster is designed to help people maintain their level of immunity for longer.
A COVID-19 booster vaccine dose helps improve the protection from the first two doses of the vaccine, by giving longer-term protection against seriously illness.
Historically, in other vaccine programmes, it takes years of post-marketing surveillance to determine the optimal interval between doses and dose number to complete a primary series to sustain long-term protection. With Covid vaccines, we are still learning, every day.
Is there a difference between a booster and an additional dose?
A booster dose is different from a third dose. The intent of a booster dose is to restore protection that may have decreased over time to a level that is no longer deemed sufficient in individuals who initially responded adequately to a complete primary vaccine series.
The intent of a third dose, which might be added to the standard primary vaccine series, is to enhance the immune response and establish an adequate level of protection for individuals who developed no or sub-optimal immune response to a two-dose primary series. This additional dose is intended to improve immunocompromised people’s response to their initial vaccine series.
Yes, it is worse again, but not in the same way as before…
“I think the era of locking people up in their homes is over because we now have tools to control Covid, the testing, vaccines and therapeutics,” said Devi Sridhar, chair of global public health at the University of Edinburgh. “So, I hope people will do the things they have to do, like put on a mask.”
The current situation and alarming short-term projections should trigger us to act.
It demands that people understand how to help stop the virus and accept how they must protect themselves. It is impossible to comprehend the lack of trust in vaccination and protective measures among some population groups. This is one very relevant negative factor in the actual control of the pandemic.
Most people hospitalised and dying from Covid-19 today are not fully vaccinated.
We are at another critical point of pandemic resurgence. The difference today is that we know more and we can do more. We have more tools and means to mitigate and reduce the damage.
For humanity to have a chance of living a normal or “new normal” life again, these tools must be properly used!
Best healthy wishes,
Dr. Maria Alice
Dr Maria Alice
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Dr Maria Alice is a consultant in General and Family Medicine. General Manager/Medical Director – Luzdoc International Medical Service. Medical Director – Grupo Hospital Particular do Algarve/ Hospital S. Gonçalo de Lagos