‘Seems impossible’: Bleak prediction over desired Covid outcome

A public health expert has warned governments need to reevaluate their approach to Covid-19 after deeming the much-desired goal of herd immunity near "impossible".

Professor Devi Sridhar, Chair of Global Public Health at the University of Edinburgh, says governments across the world are in a "tricky situation" with growing evidence new variants are reinfecting people with greater ease.

"The rising number of documented reinfections, sometimes occurring relatively quickly after the initial infection, as well as the high number of infections with the Omicron variant among the fully vaccinated, means that herd immunity is likely impossible – even if seroprevalence (the percentage of people with antibodies) hits 100 per cent," Prof Sridhar wrote for The Guardian.

A group of people wear Covid masks.
Australia has regained a sense of normality with Covid – but how do we continue with reinfection an increasing possibility? Source: Getty

"Especially given the presence of variants, Sars-CoV-2 will just keep circulating and reinfecting people."

Australia is one of many countries that have recently decided to live with the virus, recording tens of thousands of cases daily. This has seen close to five million known cases reported in 2022 alone. However previous infection, particularly from a different strain, is proving ineffective in reducing transmission.

There is also no vaccine on offer at this stage that vastly reduces the chances of infection - meaning a path to herd immunity via vaccine appears "illusive" at this stage, University of Melbourne epidemiologist Tony Blakely previously explained for The Guardian.

Unlike Australia, where a Covid suppression strategy was pursued until a large proportion of the population was vaccinated, the UK opened up early in a bid to achieve herd immunity – a gamble Prof Sridhar said was "unfortunately lost".

Australia's daily Covid cases remain in the tens of thousands. Source: Worldometers
Australia's daily Covid cases remain in the tens of thousands. Source: Worldometers

And while vaccines have drastically reduced the chances of death and severe illness, Prof Sridhar says there's "increasing evidence" on the negative impacts of the virus long term on the lungs, heart and brain.

"It’s clear that it’s better that no one is infected with this virus... how does one avoid infection while also wanting to be part of society and mix with others?" she questioned.

Expert's four steps for moving forward in the pandemic

Prof Sridhar has published a new paper which offers steps that can "help manage this seemingly intractable situation". She has identified four key steps.

1. Triad of testing, therapeutics and vaccines - Using testing to identify cases early and remove them from densely populated settings is key at ensuring essential services and daily life can operate smoothly. Using scientific progress such as rapid antiviral pills will replace "cruder non-pharmaceutical interventions " while we must pursue for 70 per cent of the world's population to be vaccinated.

2. Rapid response plans for new variants - It is clear variants have the ability to swiftly alter the trajectory of the pandemic and governments must have adequate plans to sufficiently deal with new variants.

3. Key measures in vulnerable settings - Rapid testing and one-way masking are essential in areas where people are vulnerable, such as aged care and hospitals.

4. Develop long Covid treatment - There has been a lack of focus on the effects of long Covid on health and treatments must be developed to alleviating the pain of sufferers when Covid infection becomes increasingly difficult.

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