The U.S. is experiencing a drop in new daily infection rates and deaths from Covid, even as the nation is unlikely to reach herd immunity. Can it maintain its protective bubble even as much of the world experiences surges in Covid infections and deaths? In a briefing for Ethnic & Community Media hosted by Ethnic Media Services, a panel of experts shared insight on the necessity for vaccinating the world, why it is in America’s best interests to do so, and the challenges of this enormous undertaking
Dr. Marc Lipsitch, Professor of Epidemiology, and Director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics at Harvard spoke on the improbability of the U.S. reaching herd immunity, and the pressing need to get the world vaccinated. Explaining this concept he shared the misconceptions about herd immunity which is the existence of people in a community who are completely immune. It is not bound by politics but by facts as we are experiencing right now through vaccines and infections. The question he asked was would the US reach herd immunity in the new phase? It is unlikely, he said, even with vaccines because the point at which a virus can’t transmit is when the virus can’t replicate itself. When the pandemic was new it was estimated that the reproductive number was 2/12 or 3 or even higher in some places. To get down to normal social behavior we would have to reduce transmission by a factor of 4 0r 5. This means 4out of 5 of the population gets immunized. We must immunize 80% of the population completely. The vaccines protect to a degree but not 100% so trying to fully immunize 80% means doing more than 80%. Factors like hesitancy and not immunizing everyone including children under 12yrs of age mean that we are not there yet. This signals that in the next few years there will be some transmission of the virus. What is critical is that if we are not defeating the virus we are defanging the virus making it less deadly and not causing the healthcare system to shut down. It will likely be a quiet summer and some transmissions can be expected in the fall. Variants escaping immunity haven’t happened in the US but how long immunity may last is uncertain. Should we try to get to the threshold he expressed his opinion that as a country we should vaccinate those who need most before the kids who are at lower risk.
Dr. Rosane Guerra from the Department of Pathology, Biological and Health Sciences Center at the Federal University of Maranhao (UFMA), Brazil, shared her views that the greatest risk is low vaccination. In Brazil, she shared that they have a political situation with leadership and a president who did not believe in what needed to be done leading to a high incidence of infections. At the end of 2020, 70% of the population had covid and a new wave is resurging. The possibility of new variants like the South African variants is of concern. They need to know if vaccines will be effective. The P1 variant is more vascular and now in Brazil Covid is caused by this variant which is in South America and the US. Most countries have closed their borders. It is impossible to have a bubble right now because we have a global population with people flying from place to place.
Dr. Ben Neuman, Chief Virologist at the Global Health Research Complex at Texas A&M University, shared that he agreed that bubbles are beautiful but do not last long. Immunity wanes and the cells eventually decrease over time. We don’t know when we are fully protected. The only way out is to vaccinate everyone within a particular window. It is a challenge but this is his opinion. Halfway solutions will not go a long way. The way out is collectively and not in small groups. In Texas, they had cases before they were sequenced and they found that a lot of different and new variants change in unexpected ways. Some hesitancy is based on a lack of trust. It is better to trust the virus less. A virus is unpredictable.
Peter Maybarduk, Director of Public Citizen’s Access to Medicines group discussed the Covax initiative, which aims to get vaccines to low-income countries, and its shortcomings and waivers on intellectual property rights for Covid vaccines. He shared that Covax is a global vaccine initiative. It is essential, he said, for Covax to target to vaccinate a great proportion of the world. Covax serves 92 advanced countries and encourages wealthy countries to purchase vaccines. Covax has shipped over 64 million doses which are not enough. 340million people have been vaccinated which is only 5% and significant increases are expected up to 10billion at the end of the year. Covax is behind and the US is prioritizing its own demands.
Covax needs to be fully funded. Though many of the world’s population may not be fully vaccinated there are hopeful dose projections that we will be reaching everyone. The UN secretary-general has called for a doubling of supply.
Wealthy countries must think differently and share with less wealthy countries that lack funds and personnel.Covax doesn’t have the power to influence but wealthy countries’ leaderships can do that. It must be an integrated effort that is political and doable.