Science – Lots of Vaccines and Healing: Is Corona’s Stress Over? – Knowledge

BERLIN (dpa) – For many people, Corona has lost its dread in the past few months.

With the emergence of the omicron variant at the end of last year, the virus spread at a previously unknown speed and infected millions of people in Germany within a few weeks. However, most of them fell ill – after all – relatively easily, also thanks to vaccinations. So, has the state of emergency ended in the past few years?

One hope that is often expressed is that the epidemic will become a pandemic. The term, often used somewhat imprecisely, describes a situation in which the waves of infection are flattened and thus the effects of the infection process are less severe, at least for a large part of the population. According to Friedemann Weber of Justus Liebig University in Gießen, when it comes to the question of the pandemic, it depends on whether you mean Covid-19 or Sars-CoV-2.

Settlement does not automatically mean good

An endemic state can be reached when there is no strong accumulation of infection or disease. “In the case of Covid-19, that could soon be the case, because immunity — acquired through vaccination and infection — protects it so well,” Weber says. But in the case of the virus, new variants are constantly being introduced, which causes a rapid increase in the number of cases. Basically, endemic does not automatically mean good. Because of course people can still get sick and die from Covid-19.

How things will unfold in the coming months, and how concerned we are about the virus, depends, among other things, on how strong the population’s immunity is now. In other words, how many people have gained protection against further infection and/or disease by a previous infection or vaccination.

A model recently presented by scientists at the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) provides indications of the extent of immunity. According to this study, only seven percent of people in Germany are immunologically naive – that is, they are not vaccinated or come into contact with the coronavirus through infection.

In general, the higher the proportion of this group, the easier the virus spreads. At seven percent, the chances of the virus spreading should be greatly limited — even if it is uncertain how well it protects the other 93 percent from infection and disease.

However, RKI researchers point out that acquired immunity varies greatly from state to state, mostly due to different vaccination rates. The specific figures also varied widely across age groups: in the case of elderly people over 60 years of age with a higher risk of developing a severe course of the disease, scientists assume that about four percent of them are immunologically naive. However, the number of children without immunity is greater among children – after all, there is no Covid 19 vaccine for children under five, and for children aged 5-11, there is only a limited vaccination recommendation.

Nothing accurate can be expected

How the situation will develop in the coming months also depends critically on the further development of the virus. This is difficult to predict. “Other viruses, such as influenza viruses, have been changing more gradually and less volatile than SARS-CoV-2 in the past two years,” says Richard Nir, who researches the evolution of viruses at the Biozentrum Center at the University of Basel. “It is conceivable that Sars-CoV-2 will change gradually and less dramatically in the future.” However, it is unclear if and when this change will occur.

Most experts consider the emergence of the “killer alternative” as suggested by Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach as somewhat unlikely. But even without a highly immunogenic and pathogenic variant, it has not been clarified how well and how well the immune protection has been achieved so far in the population.

Experts assume that it generally increases with the number of contacts that create immunity – that is, with the number of vaccinations or infections passed. If you are fully vaccinated with a booster therapy and at best a previous infection, it will be the best protection against serious disease. Non-immune people who have had omicron only in the past few months may not fare better next fall than completely immune-naive people. Especially if your injury is mild, according to some experts, your immune system may not have built up enough immune protection in the long run.

“If omicron-like variants are still prevalent in our country in the coming autumn/winter, we will probably deal well with the immune-naïve number,” says immunologist Karsten Watzel, general secretary of the German Society of Immunology. “If delta-derived variants predominate, the immune-naive pool is larger, and that can cause problems.”

Fewer healthcare threats

The researcher in the evolution of viruses, Neher from Basel, notes that the immune landscape of the population is becoming more and more diverse, because people have different histories of vaccination and infection. “As diversity increases, the likelihood of variants bypassing the immunity of the majority of the population decreases.”

Against this background, can one assume that overloading the healthcare system and intensive care units is a thing of the past? “With regard to Covid, in my opinion yes, even with the new variant with a clear immune escape,” says Christian Karaganidis, scientific director of the Davy Intensive Care Registry. “We had a lot of bad luck there.” However, the burden on the health care system is made up of existing capacities and all patients – “we have to expect a clear wave of respiratory illnesses in the fall/winter, like influenza”.

It is very difficult to predict whether measures will have to be tightened again in the fall, says Hajo Zeb of the Leibniz Institute for Prevention and Epidemiology Research in Bremen. “Very strict measures such as lockdown are no longer necessary, especially if further reinforcements are introduced during the summer.”

© dpa-infocom, dpa: 220511-99-237611 / 2

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