Another surge in Covid -19 cases in the Caribbean
As COVID-19 cases rise again, we the people feel blindsided by the medical community because they seem to not know what the heck is going on. After 18 months of a global health crisis and advanced vaccination rollouts, we’re in just as bad a situation as we ever were.
The number of COVID-19 cases being recorded daily in the Caribbean and around the world resembles the beginning of the pandemic when cases overwhelmed the hospitals and long lines of people waiting to get tested. According to experts, the high numbers of cases remain attributable to the spread of the highly infectious Delta variant, which usurped previous variants that themselves were more infectious than the original strain of COVID-19.
I recalled earlier in the pandemic, scientists touted the idea of herd immunity, claiming that once vaccination rates reached a certain threshold COVID-19 cases would go away. They weren’t wrong but herd immunity is now likely out of reach. That’s because the nature of the pandemic has changed according to scientist. New variants – including the more transmissible Delta variant that is making headlines for being more contagious than chicken pox – has entered the mix.
Herd immunity occurs when the number of susceptible people in the population is low enough that transmission cannot be sustained, but herd immunity also depends on vaccine coverage. As the reproductive number increases, greater vaccine coverage is needed to reach herd immunity.
Crucially, the number of hospitalizations and deaths accompanying the high number of cases has remained lower than at earlier points in the pandemic when vaccination rates were much lower, possibly showing that the coronavirus vaccines in use dramatically lower the chance of severe infection, hospitalization and/or death.
However, we must remember that vaccines are not 100 per cent effective. With new variants emerging and vaccination rates increasing, there has been a greater number of breakthrough infections, or infections that occur in people who are fully vaccinated, and breakthrough infections are quite possible, and not rare. Although those catching COVID now are a mixture of unvaccinated, partially vaccinated and double-vaccinated people, a large proportion of new infection are in (unvaccinated) children and adolescents, according to experts. We know that the vaccines are only partially effective at preventing people from catching the delta variant but are much more effective at protecting against severe disease, hospitalization and death.
Fully vaccinated individuals are not mostly getting mild symptoms, if they do catch it, although (and I would not say only) a small minority, especially older and more frail people, are still getting more severe illness, I have seen fully vaccinated persons with some pretty serious symptoms like headaches that last longer than a week, severe cough and sore throat, runny nose and struggling to breathe.
Finally, as countries relax their COVID-19 restrictions, with some opting to remove all restrictions, people are going to interact more. And as mobility increases, so too are cases. That’s because the reproductive number also depends on the number of contacts that you have.
As we enter a fourth wave, cases will go up. But this doesn’t necessarily mean a return to life in lockdown. This phase of the pandemic looks different than prior waves, with fewer hospitalizations and deaths and more cases among young people, some of whom are still too young to be vaccinated.
Although we may never reach herd immunity, we will eventually learn to live with this virus. Until then, precautions like masking and social distancing, alongside vaccination, will still be needed to keep cases down. I would have to agree with epidemiologists and public health experts who have long-expressed the view that COVID-19 is just something we’re going to have to get used to, that the virus will become endemic and cannot now be eradicated. This seems more realistic than trying to eradicate the disease. We are just going to have to live with Covid-19 for a much, much longer time.
Subrina Hall-Azih is a Trinidadian Educator residing in New York.