The current wave of Covid-19 Omicron infections will be a challenge for health care systems to deal with. But once it ends, cases should decline and life may regain some semblance of normalcy, at least for the rest of 2022.
This prediction came from Bill Gates during a Twitter Q&A This week with Devi Sridhar, Professor of Global Public Health at the University of Edinburgh School of Medicine. Sridhar Gates asked the question on everyone’s mind: “How and when will the epidemic end?”
He replied, “As countries experience the Omicron wave, health systems will face challenges.” “Most severe cases will be non-immune. Once Omicron passes a country, the rest of the year will see much fewer cases, so Covid can be treated like seasonal flu.” In other words, the Covid virus can go from its current epidemic state to an endemic state in which the disease is still present, and remains dangerous, especially for the most vulnerable, but enough people have sufficient immunity so that it no longer disrupts our daily lives. Several past pandemics have made this transition to endemic, including the 1918 flu and the 2009 swine flu pandemic.
It must be emphasized that in the United States we are still in the grip of the Omicron wave. The day before Gates’ Q&A, the United States recorded a new high of 1.35 million new cases in a single day. Infections are four times higher than they were at the height of last winter, with hospitalizations at an all-time high as well.
Once the current wave is over, we may get some relief from Covid for the rest of the year. “It is unlikely that there will be a more transmissible variant, but we have been very surprised during this pandemic,” Gates wrote on Twitter. “Omicron will create a lot of immunity at least for the next year.” But, he added, “we may have to take annual Covid shots for some time.”
Subject to misleading information
Sridhar also asked Gates about the challenges of fighting the pandemic when misinformation spread very quickly on social media. “Social media has been running late trying to get factual information — there will be a lot of debate about how to improve that,” Gates said. “People like you and me and Tony Fauci have been exposed to a lot of misinformation. I wasn’t expecting it. Some of it, like me putting chips in the gun, doesn’t make sense to me – why would I want to do that?” (“I was making a joke but I’m going to make a storm,” Sridhar replied with a laughing emoji.
Sridhar also addressed what may be the most important question of all – how prepared are we for the next pandemic? This time, Gates said, only a few countries acted quickly to implement social distancing measures and isolate those infected. He added that those who did were able to “significantly reduce the number of deaths”. “Once the numbers swell in a country, it is too late.”
Gates noted that to deal more effectively with the upcoming pandemic, world leaders will need to prepare in advance. There are some signs that may occur. For example, Gates noted that WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has already started an important conversation about how to prepare for the next pandemic. He also praised Sridhar, saying that he appreciates her work in this field. “We can do a lot better next time!!” Tweeted. Let’s hope he’s right.