By Stephen Londe, MD, FACC, FACS / Original to ScheerPost
At the end of last year, I pointed out that the scourge of smallpox was literally eradicated from the earth by vaccination against it in an original piece for ScheerPost. As smallpox spread like wildfire, the related benign virus, the Vaccinia virus, was used to provide protective immunity against the killer smallpox virus, the Variola virus. Yes, that small scar many of you have is the result of Vaccinia infection, deliberately given to you at your parents’ request and doctor’s advice (prior to 1972 when, due to vaccination efforts, smallpox ceased to exist). Thanks to this, you are protected against smallpox, a disease that killed millions.
Is Omicron the Vaccinia of Covid-19?
In early November of last year, SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.1.529 (Omicron) was first identified in a laboratory in Johannesburg, South Africa. It rapidly became the dominant cause of Covid disease. It replicated 70 times faster than earlier variants, was far more contagious, and caused fewer symptoms— mainly scratchy throat, runny nose, fever, and mild cough, but no significant lung insufficiency. Case numbers spiked dramatically but hospitalization, admission to ICU, respirator use, and deaths were dramatically lower. This was proving to be a more “benign” version of Covid disease. In South Africa, the disease swept through the largely unvaccinated population of the Gauteng Province, which includes Johannesburg, and as suddenly as the case numbers skyrocketed, they precipitously declined to the point where some South African health authorities declared the pandemic over and that SARS-CoV-2 was now endemic, remaining in the population and cropping up periodically like the flu. Was this herd immunity?
Here in the U.S. the CDC now reports that Omicron accounts for greater than 95% of recorded Covid cases, spreading at an unprecedented rate, and replacing the more lethal SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant (relegated to just 1.7% of cases). Daily record number of cases are being reported all over the country, and although hospitalization and deaths are increasing as well, they are doing so at a much lower rate than seen with the Delta variant. Further, according to a study by Tufts University, as many as 64% of those reported hospitalized with Covid were hospitalized for other reasons.
Sewage Could Be Pointing the Way
Samples of wastewater in Boston, Mass., and several cities and counties in California, and elsewhere saw a peak viral load preceding the spike in reported cases, but now show a sharp decline, hopefully predicting a decline in cases as usually seen within 5-7 days. If our experience mirrors that seen in South Africa, the end of the pandemic may be within eight to ten weeks!
Almost 75% of people in this country have at least one vaccine shot. Consistently, hospitalization, ICU admission and death rates are higher in unvaccinated people. Fully vaccinated people have on average twenty times less chance of symptomatic illness, hospitalization, or dying and if hospitalized have shorter stays. With Omicron spreading rapidly, especially in the unvaccinated, we can get close to herd immunity. This infection can largely be prevented by vaccination, masking, and social distancing. Remember, however, that vaccinated infected people still spread the virus.
GET VACCINATED. GET BOOSTED.
WEAR A MASK AND SOCIAL DISTANCE.