The astonishing arrival of the omicron variant in the chaotic scenario of the pandemic makes us dream again of the prospect of collective immunity, but experts warn that it is too early to conclude.
French Health Minister Olivier Veran dared to declare over the weekend that “this fifth wave could be the last” due to the speed with which the micron, a highly contagious variant of the coronavirus, is spreading, apparently less dangerous.
An optimistic scenario, according to Alain Fischer, responsible for the vaccination campaign in France.
“Perhaps we are witnessing the beginning of evolution towards a more banal virus, like many others that we already know”, he declared this Monday(3).
Natural immunity, together with the effect of vaccines, would provide a much less severe phase of the global pandemic.
“There is hope,” says epidemiologist Arnaud Fontanet.
“Sars-CoV-2 could join other human coronaviruses that cause colds and sore throats every winter,” he explains.
“We’re not close yet. We can predict that new variants will appear, but our immunity will be strengthened over time, whether by natural infection or with booster doses of the vaccine”, he says.
But before that there will be predictably “a high number of infections in the population,” Israel Health Ministry Director Nachman Ash said on Sunday.
– New variant? –
The risks of overloading health systems are high. Although more benign, the impact of the omicron remains to be determined. And if there are new variants, the collective immunity could be harmed with more deaths.
“I’m still hoping the virus will become similar to that of colds, maybe in the next two years,” said Julian Tang, a virologist and professor at the University of Leicester, quoted by the British Science Media Center.
“If we are to start learning the lessons of the recent past of this pandemic, the first thing to remember is that it is very unpredictable,” epidemiologist Antoine Flahault told AFP. In his opinion, the concept of collective immunity is “purely theoretical”.
“It seems that the immunity of vaccines effectively protects against severe forms of the disease, but not equally to all those who are vaccinated”, he explains.
“Immunity acquired naturally also seems to provide a kind of protection, especially against the severe forms, although nothing is completely certain”, he adds.
Flahault, who currently directs the Institute of Global Health in Geneva, believes all possibilities remain open, including a greater-than-expected impact of the omicron variant or simply the emergence of new mutations.
“I’m convinced it won’t be the last wave,” said Eric Caumes, former director of the infectious disease service at La Pitié Salpêtrière hospital in Paris on Sunday.
“But maybe it’s the last with this intensity”, he says.
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