Omicron, the new variant of Covid-19 continues to spread at high speed in Argentine territory and there are already more than seven million cases registered since the start of the pandemic. In this context, many wonder if indeed the entire population, sooner or later, will contract the virus.
“With the current level of contagion and, assuming that today the majority is due to the omicron variant, a high level of contagion is expected in the population”, dice Martín Stryjewski, Head of Hospitalization at the “Norberto Quirno” Center for Medical Education and Clinical Research (Cemic) and member of the board of directors of the Argentine Society of Infectious Diseases (SADI) a THE NATION.
And he adds: “With the very high positivity rate and the more than 100,000 daily cases tested positive on average, it is likely that we are having about three or four times what we tested, that is, 300 to 400 thousand cases daily. If this is sustained for at least three weeks, we would be talking about eight million cases in this short period (almost 20% of the population)”.
Ricardo Teijeiro, an infectologist at the Pirovano Hospital and also a member of the SADI, points out that “it is expected that a large part of the population will be infected.” Barbara Broese, Director of Epidemiology of the San Isidro Hospital, mentions that “more than 50 percent” will be infected, but also recognizes that it cannot be guaranteed if the entire population will contract the virus.
Following this same line, Elena Obieta, infectologist, member of the SADI and head of the Communicable and Emerging Diseases Service of the Municipality of San Isidro, understands that “although it is likely that a large part of the population will be infected due to the speed of transmission of the new variant, we don’t know yet.” For this reason, he adds, it is important to continue complying with the care measures: “Even being outdoors, without respecting the meter and a half and without wearing a mask, the risk of contagion with this variant is very high”.
Demand for occupancy of intensive care beds grew significantly since last December: according to a report by the Argentine Society of Intensive Therapy (SATI), passed from one occupancy from 4% to 22% for severe cases of coronavirus between December 13 and 10 this month. Although in most cases the omicron variant produces mild symptoms, experts agree that there is a risk of saturating the health system.
“The saturation of the health system is given at the point of diagnosis. Today the testing is saturated to make the diagnosis and not for hospitalizations or control of complications. As we have more and more cases, there will always be patients who can get complicated. That’s why you have to continue with preventive measures of distancing, being outdoors and the use of a mask because the risk of saturation of the system will always be there”, explains Teijeiro.
Stryjewski adds: “There is a potential risk because the contagion is so massive that, even if a low percentage of patients are complicated, this can strain the health system over time.”
“Right now, the great pressure on the health system is at the primary care level and in the emergency wards. We are seeing a slow increase in hospitalizations and critical care units,” he says. Both and adds that the majority of hospitalization cases are unvaccinated, insufficiently vaccinated or with comorbidities and that, by vaccination, a large number of deaths are being avoided.
“Given the large number of cases, tension is beginning to be felt because hospitalizations increase in people who have risk factors. But I do not consider that the health system is going to collapse: vaccination and the decrease in virulence make this an unlikely situation”, complements Broese.
In some countries, the number of infections began to fall after several weeks of record growth and, therefore, they began to change the policies to contain the pandemic to get out of the “emergency” mode. Is it possible to speak ofherd immunity”? The term implies that if enough people acquire immunity, it is unlikely that the disease will continue to spread.
“Herd immunity is directly proportional to the contagiousness of the virus. The more contagious the virus, the more percentage of the population needs to be immunized (by vaccines and/or infection) to achieve that immunity,” he explains. Stryjewski. “We are not close, since: a) two doses of vaccine would not be enough (three would) to prevent contagion by this variant and b) there is still not such a high population percentage of infections by omicron”, he adds..
For its part, Teijeiro He maintains that “one cannot speak of herd immunity because there are more and more infections. Obviously, there are many people who are susceptible -to Covid- and there is a long way to go to have generalized immunity”.
“It would be hasty to talk about immunity when we still run the risk of the appearance of new variants in places with a very low percentage of vaccination. The entire planet must be vaccinated so that more lethal variants do not appear,” he explains. Both and concludes: “Although there is a tendency of omicron not to be so lethal, It goes without saying that we are in the era of crystallization of the pandemic. We are still in a pandemic and we must continue to take care of ourselves.”