Christmas without snow but with Covid. This is the most likely scenario for celebrating the end of the year. “We are facing a new wave of the epidemic,” explains Yves Buisson, epidemiologist and president of the Covid-19 cell of the National Academy of Medicine. The number of cases has been on the rise in recent weeks. The famous “R0”, which indicates the ability of the virus to spread through the population, has risen above 1. And barnums devoted to tests are again appearing in front of some pharmacies. How big will this new outbreak be?
Looking at past curves is rather encouraging. “We notice that the waves become less and less high over time. This reflects a phenomenon that we should be happy with: we somehow achieved a certain herd immunity,” notes Yves Buisson. Indeed, 80% of the French have been vaccinated at least once, and most of them have been exposed to the virus at least once.
In the very short term, this configuration offers us some oxygen because herd immunity slightly slows the circulation of Sars-CoV-2 and reduces the incidence of severe forms requiring hospitalization. “The epidemic is starting again, but we can hope it doesn’t rise very high as the variant that is in the process of imposing itself – BQ1.1, resulting from the Omicron BA.5 sub-variant – remains known to our immune system, even if it allowed itself several mutations,” emphasizes Yves Buisson. Despite everything, epidemiologists look to the future with caution. “It is impossible to know whether the future will consist of wavelets or much more problematic phases,” admits Katherine Hill, an epidemiologist and researcher at the Gustave Roussy Cancer Institute. “We always have a virus that is actively circulating and partially eludes our immunity. In fact “we let it spread all over the planet. That’s how it mutates, and if it’s done effectively in another country, you can be sure that after some time it will reach us.”
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The problem of vaccination
At the moment “BQ1” settles in France. But another sub-option of Omicron is already appearing – XBB. And then ? No one knows. “It’s very difficult for me to predict what will happen next year,” Yves Buisson confirms. effective vaccines. But it doesn’t last long. After six months, there is a noticeable decrease. Moreover, in our country, people who are eligible for vaccination do not receive enough vaccine. These reasons speak in favor of a vigorous vaccination campaign, embodied in the Mr vaccine, which would clearly explain what to do and why.” Completely opposite of today’s situation.
Katherine Hill agrees: “In order to limit the effects of the epidemic, people need to be vaccinated on time. I do not understand why the government does not introduce clear rules in this area. It’s simple: if you’re under 80 and your last Covid or your last vaccine is more than 6 months old, go get a revaccination. And for people aged 80 years and older, the principle is the same with a delay of 3 months. There is currently no clear message,” laments the scientist. But what matters is what is at stake. Currently, only 21% of people over the age of 80 and 37% of people between the ages of 60 and 79 are well protected, according to the Ministry of Health.
Communication without conviction
“The ideal would be for everyone to use barrier gestures at the same time and vaccinate much more widely, even beyond those at risk,” Yves Buisson points out. “But we should not dream, we are far from that. Politicians refuse to give up obligations. So they can only make recommendations. But we see that the French care much less about wearing a mask or maintaining social distancing. And on the side of vaccines, communication always lacks conviction. It was like that from the very beginning. Remember the first campaign. So far, all our neighbors were advancing quickly, we were still wondering if we should force people to register with the EHPAD. Later, when Omicron arrived, there was panic and the vaccination skip was launched very late. By acting more efficiently, we would have avoided many deaths.”
However, epidemiologists do not give up. “We still have the tools,” Catherine Hill says. “I still think we should have tried to do group tests to cut costs. We collected samples from about twenty people in one tube, and if we don’t find the virus in this one, “So all negative. One could even imagine the final version of this method, based on the analysis of wastewater from an entire city.”
“Vaccinology has not yet had its last word,” adds Yves Buisson. For example, researchers are still working on a mucosal vaccine. This type of protection will not eliminate Covid. But he could boil it down to a respiratory infection, just like the others. “We have long hoped that covid will follow a pattern comparable to influenza, with low-noise circulation throughout the year and one or two epidemic waves in the winter season. I think one day we will come to this,” the epidemiologist says. But it must be admitted that the path turns out to be more difficult than expected.
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