Sunday, December 4

How and when could Covid-19 go from a pandemic to an endemic virus in Latin America?

A few months to the two years since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus a pandemic -with the consequent impact on our lives- the region faces another challenge: the omicron variant.

The achievement of the expected herd immunity, which would close the way to Covid-19 by virtue of the vaccination of a large part of the population, seems to be far from being achieved due to various factors, including the behavior of vaccines, the unequal distribution of these and the new variants.

Therefore, tEverything indicates that the closest thing would be to bring the pandemic under control, which as a concept for the WHO, is declared when a contagious disease spreads rapidly in a certain population, simultaneously affecting a large number of people and countries during a specific period of time. In the event of uncontrolled spread, an epidemic can collapse a healthcare system.

Llegacy of a moment of certain control, what was a pandemic is now identified as an endemic disease, which means that the disease persists in a continuous or episodic way in a given area, without representing chaos for the health system.

Where we are?

The pandemic alert continues. In fact, the Pan American Health Organization has recommended caution when celebrating Christmas and Airlines in the United States canceled dozens of trips this Friday due to the omicron impact.

Infectious disease doctors consulted by the Voice of america they insist on complete vaccination schedules, including booster doses, to avoid new closures and waves that could impact, again, daily life and avoid another collapse of health systems.

Experts insist that vaccination is the only option, both to save lives and to avoid the appearance of new variants.

“When they are vaccinated not only do they protect themselves, but they protect those around themCall your friends, your family or people who may be in contact with them for a moment ”, he told the FLY Carlos Arturo Álvarez, infectious disease doctor, epidemiologist, coordinator of Covid-19 studies before the World Health Organization in Colombia and advisor to President Iván Duque on this matter.

Álvarez points out that As long as there is a group of people that is not protected, there is “a risk that people susceptible to become infected and when the person is infected it generates the possibility of appearance of variants ”.

Henry Mendoza Ramírez, infectious internist and general secretary of the Colombian Association of Infectious Diseases, said in an interview with the FLY that It is necessary to vaccinate adolescents, older adults with comorbidities, and even children “To stop any appearance of variants”.

For the expert, It is essential to dispel myths such as those that indicate that vaccines introduce a chip, cause sterility or generate complications.

This information that we all know as the infodemic is key that we control it”Says Mendoza, while calling for the population to inform itself with clear and truthful sources.

“The vaccination process is not a new process… it has existed for many years… We have already shown that, if we vaccinate (…) more than 70% of our population significantly decreases circulation ”, reiterates the secretary general of the Colombian Association of Infectology.

For Dr. Álvarez, the lessons learned in these almost two years of the pandemic have been many, including the demystification of measures that are not of much use. For him, complementary aspects of vaccines are the use of a mask, hand washing, good ventilation of closed spaces and social distancing.

Dr. Mendoza states that a key measure would be to require the vaccination card among the community.

What to expect with omicron lurking?

Dr. Mendoza explained to the FLY that the new variant “Omicron has not shown greater virulence with respect to the delta variant, the currently predominant”.

“There is no evidence of greater transmissibility. Yes, a greater ease of being infected, which alerts us very much, but a greater virulence, a greater mortality or a greater complication has not been demonstrated ”. But nevertheless, says that in patients who do have some comorbidities, complications are likely to occur.

Successes and mistakes in the region

Dr. Álvarez explains that we must be careful with the comparison of the countries, regarding the management of the pandemic, as it indicates that the particular situation of each country depends and highlights “the resilience capacity of the region.”

For Álvarez, most countries are increasing vaccination coverage at a significant rate, which he classifies as one of “the achievements of the region”.

He explains that the expectation of vaccination in Argentina, Colombia and Brazil, even Peru, is similar. But Chile has the greatest advantage: “Its vaccination rate is an example in the world.” Doctor Mendoza agrees, and at the same time rThe incentive for the population to achieve immunization is high in these countries.

Álvarez also highlights the effort to obtain intensive care bed and diagnostic capacity in countries such as Argentina and Colombia.

We cannot compare countries in our region with countries that have unlimited resources as happens in Europe, just to have the context, in the purchase of vaccines, for example ”, clarifies the adviser to the presidency of Colombia.

Regarding health systems, Dr. Álvarez explains that The fragility of some of them and the strength of others have been shown. In this sense, the health systems such as the Colombian and Chilean ones stand out.

“In this handling of the pandemic, lhe strength of the health system, for example, has allowed people who actually get sick to have very little out-of-pocket expense. What is out-of-pocket expense? It is that both people have to pay for care and in that, unfortunately in some countries of the region, that expense is very high as in the case of Peru, of Mexico ”, says Dr. Álvarez.

For the coordinator of Covid-19 studies before the WHO, When reviewing the work of the countries, it is necessary to take into account how many people have been infected and has been vaccinated.

Public policies

Álvarez maintains that leaders in the region should connect as much as possible to work together in regional and local solutions, where politics and science should go hand in hand.

“Unfortunately, in some countries of the region, the Minister of Health changed two, three, four or five times, for example. I think that this continuity and that closeness between the technical part and the political part make the difference, which I believe should be hand in hand for situations like these that we are seeing ”, says Dr. Álvarez.

For doctor Mendoza, se can continue with prevention measures without reaching closures: “We have to learn to live with COVID-19 because it is the new normal that we have. Will not go away. Doing intensive enclosures of regions is not going to make this disappear ”.

The secretary general of the Colombian Association of Infectology also points out that “It is not necessary to politicize the pandemic, (nor) that it should be managed from political campaigns ”, but it is an issue “that we owe from the state of government.”

It suggests that governments maintain a dialogue with vaccine producers and thus take advantage of the possibilities of producing them in the region. To make them more economical, make alliances between countries that have adequate fundamental technological advances with vaccine producers.

So what awaits us?

This virus is going to continue and it is not going to go away, doctors say. “What it is going to do is that we change one epidemic or pandemic situation to an endemic situation. What does this mean? That the virus continues, but it no longer impacts health systems in such a way that extreme measures such as confinements themselves have to be taken, ”Álvarez explains.

According to PAHO, more than 100 million cases of Covid in the Americas since the beginning of the pandemic.

The omicron variant has already been notified in 18 countries and American territories: Argentina, Bermuda, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Cayman Islands, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, and Trinidad and Tobago.

Voice of America (VOA)