RICO’s COVID DIGEST – The hypothesis that is gaining followers around the world, and also in Costa Rica: omicron, the new variant of SARS-Cov-2, the coronavirus that causes covid-19, could be the beginning of the end of the pandemic.
Its high contagion capacity but low aggressiveness to make people seriously ill and kill, would be the strongest cards for omicron to become the so-called “natural vaccine” that will immunize millions and, although it is hard to believe, restore health. With its explosive case generation, it would stimulate what was never seen with vaccination: herd immunity, and it would do so with a low impact on hospitalizations and deaths compared to previous variants, such as delta.
In South Africa, where the new variant was detected on November 24, there are 65% fewer hospitalizations despite the accelerated increase in the case curve, which fell just as fast at the end of the year. In Scotland, hospitalizations fell 60%; and in England, 40%, according to international media, such as the BBC.
Microbiologist and health worker, Darner Mora Alvarado, dares to predict that omicron will lead humanity from pandemic to endemic at the end of the year. That is, from a global health crisis caused by a disease such as covid-19 to a situation similar to influenza, a disease that is common among people.
“Ómicron will be the natural vaccine that came out of Africa. This mutation is the normal mechanism that a virus must have to reach the end of the road and go from being pandemic to being endemic. That is my prognosis, and it is positive. It is the law of nature,” said Mora.
“The stages we have lived through are part of the epidemiological evolution: we started with very aggressive variants, including delta, and now omicron, which exceeds delta about six times more (in contagiousness), but with one great advantage: it produces less disease, less severe symptoms. This leads to the hypothesis that we could be at the beginning of the end of the health crisis due to covid. Not from the syndemic,” clarified the microbiologist, who also directs the Laboratorio Nacional de Aguas (National Water Laboratory, the AyA reference center of analysis for the surveillance and control of water quality throughout the country.
According to the latest virus reproduction data, provided by specialists from the Universidad Hispanoamerican (UH), the so-called R rate of the new coronavirus reached 2.09 with omicron, last week, its highest point so far in almost two years of national emergency due to the pandemic.
The circulation of the new variant was confirmed in Costa Rica on December 19, less than a month after it was detected in South Africa.
That rate of 2.09 represents an increase of 113.27% in the last seven days and means that a group of 100 people with the SARS-Cov-2 virus would infect 209: more than double. This is what is expected of omicron, which, so far, does not reflect a parallel impact on health services. However, we must give it time, the next few weeks, to verify the consequences of the end of the year parties.
According to specialists, the fourth pandemic wave has already begun. However, we can’t really know its effect given the failure of the Ministry of Health to provide data on the pandemic’s evolution this past week. The most recent data from the Ministry of Health is from December 28. The only information we have from Health officials is an article published on that same date of the record increase in deaths, which went from seven a week to 11, the previous week, but a reduction in the hospitalization of 20% in the same period.
At the Q, we maintain a covid-19 timeline from figures provided by the Ministry of Health from the first case in Costa Rica on March 6, 2020. See it here.
Hospitalizations and deaths remain the key.
Doctor and epidemiologist from the Universidad Hispanoamericana, Ronald Evans, agrees that what we are seeing is part of the natural history of viruses: at first, he said, they attack with great force and cause a lot of lethality, but with mutations, they lose strength.
“Transient forms of the virus are beginning to appear, and this (omicron) could be one of them. But securing it could definitely be very dangerous,” he warns, adding that humanity has also advanced in all this time towards immunity.
For Evans, at this point in the pandemic, probably more than 1 billion people may have had the disease in the world, five times the number registered by official counts. One of them, that of Johns Hopkins University, which by January 3, reported more than 292 million cases worldwide, and 5.4 million deaths.
In Costa Rica alone, more than 7.7 million vaccines against covid-19 have been applied; 76.4% of the target population already have their first dose, 67.8% completed the two-dose schedule, and 5.9% have the third dose, according to data from the latest vaccination statistics by the CCSS on December 27, 2021.
“We are no longer in the same situation as December 2020, when our immune system had no experience whatsoever. It’s not like that. There are many millions of vaccinated, in addition to millions who have had the disease. This makes humanity have defensive conditions far superior to those of two years ago. The trend is to decrease fatality, as has been seen throughout the world.
“Cases have increased exponentially but deaths are flat. 180,000 cases of omicron have been seen in the UK but just over 40 deaths. Before the lethality before was up to 5%. I would dare to say that, in effect, the virus is changing into transitory forms that lead not to total harmlessness, but to a loss of its virulence capacity (aggressiveness to make sick and kill),” said Evans who assures that in the long run, this virus will remain endemic as of next year, such as influenza and other diseases that are not eradicated but are controlled.
The epidemiologist affirms that this is a transition stage towards an endemic state of a virus controlled by vaccination, by the same natural evolution of the disease, and by Science that, according to Evans, has not only advanced in the ability to produce new vaccines to prevent and reduce mortality and complications from covid-19, but new drugs to treat the disease.
Experts agree that we can expect an explosive rise in the number of cases in Costa Rica, and an equally dizzying decline. The variables of concern are the number of hospitalizations and deaths.
Darner Mora dares to see with more positive eyes the expected increase in infections with omicron: “This is positive news that leads us to the following: the number of beds and patients in Intensive Care (ICU), and the number of deaths that this explosion of cases will bring us, will be much less than what we have already been through. That explosion of cases could help people build more immunity,” he predicts.
Vaccination against covid-19 continues to be a strategic element in achieving control of the pandemic, as well as the self-care measures that have been promoted in recent months; Mainly, hand washing with soap and water, the correct use of the mask and physical distancing, together with being in open and ventilated spaces.