According to the WHO, it will be four to five years before COVID-19 is under control

According to the WHO, it will be four to five years before COVID-19 is under control

"It will be four or five years before COVID-19 is under control," the chief scientist of the World Health Organization (WHO) predicted this Wednesday , in a grim assessment of the difficulties that lie ahead .

These harsh statements were made by Soumya Swaminathan , an Indian pediatrician and clinical scientist known for her research on tuberculosis. Swaminathan has been Chief Scientist at the World Health Organization since March 2019.

These forecasts become more gloomy now that we know more specific data on all the people who have already been infected in Spain thanks to a seroprevalence study : it is estimated that only 5% , despite being one of the most affected countries in the world . If we aspire to herd immunity, then, we have to assume that we are still at the beginning of the pandemic.

It is true that we now know more than before, we are more prepared, but it also seems true that if we relax the confinement measures, it is quite likely that we will again have many victims or collapsed health systems. And not relaxing the confinement measures implies facing another dark epidemic: that of an economic nature .

Germany, for example, is already taking measures to confine society again after the results in the form of contagions that have taken place due to deconfinement.

Factors involved

Many factors will determine how long and to what extent the virus will continue to be a threat, including whether there are mutations , what containment measures are in place, and whether an effective vaccine is developed. All this, obviously, is not a certainty … the pandemic could potentially get worse and would then take more than four or five years.

A vaccine seems the best way out for now, but there are many doubts about its efficacy and safety, as well as its equitable production and distribution . A vaccine could also stop working if the virus mutates.

It doesn’t mean that we can’t control the virus, eventually, but it does mean that we’ll have to take all possible steps to prevent it from spreading after the crashes have been eased. It will only take a small number of people to refuse to wear masks or to breach social distancing to trigger more local outbreaks.

Peter Piot , professor of global health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, shares Swaminathan’s pessimistic prognoses, and recalls that today the human species has only eradicated one disease through a vaccine: smallpox.

WHO emergency director Mike Ryan has also warned that it is very difficult to predict when we will control the virus: even if a vaccine is found, getting the virus under control will require a ‘massive effort’. While there are more than 100 potential vaccines in development , Ryan recalled that there are other diseases, such as measles, that have not yet been eliminated despite the fact that there are vaccines for them .

Care has also been taken to warn that we must leave behind the magical or optimistic thinking that confinement is a strategy that always works perfectly and that lack of refinement means that things will get better. Certainly we face the greatest of uncertainties in that regard .