Is Corona over when everyone has antibodies?

We are in the third year of the Corona pandemic. Much has been achieved in the fight against the disease since the virus spread around the world. There are medicines, vaccinations, and many people have already contracted corona and recovered. But when will we get to the point where we can finally say: We’re here, the pandemic is over?

Almost all Brits have antibodies

The British are generally more liberal than Germany when it comes to dealing with the pandemic. A few weeks ago, the state health authority published a representative study there. The result: more than 99 per cent of Britons already have antibodies, through vaccination, infection or both. Conclusion: the population is now protected – the beginning of the end of the epidemic.

Germany feels liberated – even without numbers

Could this not also be the case in Germany? We don’t know exactly – no large, representative study results like this can tell us this. not yet. They should come at the end of the month. But will it really help? And can we finally end the epidemic and usher in fall and winter the normal way?

In any case, there is a growing feeling in Germany that the epidemic is gradually coming to an end, notes intensive care doctor Christian Karaganidis, a member of the Federal Government’s expert council: “Because we have a relatively high level of immunization in the population through vaccination and also through the infection that has passed through ,” says Karaganidis, “the community also notes that it is now dealing with infection differently than it has in the past two years.”

Health Insurance Data ‘Never Represents’

The one thing that cannot be answered with certainty is how high the level of immunization is in Germany. On the other hand, the British can say so accurately. says Ulrike Protzer, a virologist at the Technical University and Helmholtz Center in Munich.

In Germany, “health insurance data can be processed, but it is never representative, and is evenly distributed across the population, similar to what you would expect from an election poll.”

RKI initially expects 93 percent of antibodies to be present

This representative study is currently underway in Germany – but the results won’t be published until the end of June, according to the Robert Koch Institute. According to RKI, along with researchers at Humboldt University in Berlin, in a modeling study: About 93 percent of Germans had antibodies against corona in April.

Now, after the last few months with Omikron, there may be more. Several investigations, at a regional level in many places in Germany, have found similar results, explains Florian Kramer, a microbiologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. One could “assume that the data will look pretty much the same in Europe. Of course, Great Britain opened earlier, but I don’t think there will be much difference between the countries.”

How many people get sick?

If only so many people already had antibodies against corona – is the epidemic really over? “The question we ask ourselves – when will the epidemic end – is the question of when will the stage at which this infection affect our daily lives end,” says Ulrike Prützer. “Of course this is something that every country has to decide for themselves, and that depends again on: How well is the population protected? How prepared is the immune system? And are people still getting sick in large numbers or not?”

New viral variants can penetrate immunity

This means that even if more and more people come into contact with the virus, whose immune systems can handle it better, people are still dying every day, and many more infected suffer long-term consequences. And: the virus continues to mutate, the new omicron variant BA.5 is already circulating in Germany.

It’s “all right and well” if there’s a lot of immunity in the population, says Florian Kramer, but that immunity “unfortunately can’t largely neutralize these new variants.” So immunity means “not everyone is now protected from the new variants, because they can really bypass the immune response, neutralizing antibodies. And then there’s a superinfection.”

The recovery rate will be more important…

So, even if people become less sick because their immune system can better fight the virus, they can continue to contract new variants. There could be new waves again, even in summer, as is already the case in Portugal with the BA.5 variant. Asking how many people actually have antibodies doesn’t help answer the question of when the epidemic will finally end – or when we can live and deal with corona as well as with other diseases.

“Other parameters are more suitable for this,” says Ulrike Protzer. “If you look: How many people come to hospital with a corona infection? Then you know how many people with a serious infection need to be hospitalized.” If you collect and analyze this data, you will get a “more accurate picture of the infection process and its impact on our health system.”

… but here we are also “flying blind”

This is exactly what the Federal Government’s Council of Experts has now called for. There is a DIVI Intensive Care Register, which indicates the number of intensive care beds available in clinics in Germany. But more data is needed, nationally, digitally and in real time, says intensive care doctor Christian Karaganidis: “We need to know: How many beds do we actually have in Germany? How many are occupied? How many nurses are there every day A bed? We’re flying blind in Germany. That’s something we’ll have to solve by fall or winter, I think.”

Lauterbach promises improvement

Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) announced immediately after the expert council statement last week that “data collection in hospitals” is currently being prepared: “The proposal made by the expert council here to use this DEMIS tool here, what data will be sent from hospitals directly to the Robert Koch Institute And to state health authorities, which is exactly the suggestion I’ve been preparing internally for a few months.” Technical preparations were in full swing.

not finished yet

With good real-time data on how many people have actually gotten sick and how many doctors and nurses they actually have – we can manage the epidemic better with that.

If we then see that fewer and fewer people become seriously ill, there will come a point where we can say: the epidemic is slowly over. Now – and on the next wave, which will very likely come in fall and winter at the latest – that point has not yet been reached.

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