My initial instinct was to title this article ‘The future of Covid’ as countries like Denmark with a population of just under six million where 88% of people older than 18 are fully vaccinated have virtually returned to a pre-covid world with bars and nightclubs teeming with bacchanalian pleasure seekers, sporting events enjoying frenzied capacity crowds and public transport similarly packed with commuters, all of these with not a mask in sight. ‘What coronavirus’appears to be the mantra of many of the young of that country, a hymn that is echoed by ecstatic partygoers in the United Kingdom and other parts of Europe and the USA who are revelling in their reborn freedoms. For those who have been vaccinated and even for those who haven’t life appears to have magically returned to pre-covid status as if this lethal scourge no longer exists. Down under we have hibernated behind the rest of the planet with our vaccination programme but as we gallop towards Denmark’s seemingly stellar achievements and we rapidly approach what has been anointed as ‘Freedom day’ in other parts of the world would it be wise to consider this mercurial enemy a phenomenon that exists only in the rear view mirror or would it be more circumspect to travel cautiously with covid, no matter how many have been vaccinated?
Countries like Israel, who barrelled full throttle into early and extensive vaccination are now experiencing a resurgence in cases even in those who are fully vaccinated, as temporary immunity provided by vaccination wains. To counter this, they have initiated a booster shot strategy which is reputed to dramatically enhance immunity and protect against recurring illness. Yet despite this widespread booster programme that country is still experiencing large-scale outbreaks which is partially attributed to the opening of public schools, a significant portion of new infections occurring in the 2 million Israeli children who are younger than 12 as well as religious and social gatherings, coupled with the rise of the mutant delta strain, not an ideal marriage for the original vaccine.
Experts in Israel have retained their faith in the booster programme with the expectation that as more receive this added insurance the whole country will enjoy more protection. To further quell the rise in cases they have limited entry to sporting and cultural events as well as gyms, restaurants, night clubs and bars to those who have received this shot or have been recently fully vaccinated.
As cases edge slowly north in Denmark experts there are equally optimistic with the expectation that as vaccination rates surpass 90% and children and those who are unvaccinated develop natural immunity with exposure to the virus rather than succumbing there will not be a significant escalation in illness.
Other experts have cautioned that aside from relying solely on vaccinating as many as we can we might need to preserve other public health measures like mask wearing indoors and on public transport if we are to maintain our stranglehold on a virus which is forever threatening to rage out of control. Current research indicates that the delta strain has evolved to transmit more efficiently via aerosols and that those who are infected harbour copious amounts in their nose and throat. As a result scientists have recommended that we wear tighter fitting masks and that any notion of abandoning this safeguard would be reckless and even suicidal.
Looking into their crystal ball which is extremely difficult to do given the possible evolution of more mutant strains scientists appear to be suggesting that vaccination might protect us from severe disease in a temporary fashion and we might need regular boosters to reignite our defences. At the same time if we were exposed to the virus when we have some protection and developed a mild form of illness this might also generate longer lasting immunity. A more daunting scenario would result if the virus mutated, was easily transmissible and escaped whatever natural or vaccine generated immunity we have. Then we might be faced with an apocalyptic, survival of the fittest scenario.
To counter this doomsday possibility research has been feverishly devoted to designing medications that can neutralise the virus and recently a drug called molnupiravir, not cheap at $700 for a five day course, has been developed, which disrupts the ability of the SARS-CoV-2 virus to replicate.
There is also evidence that optimising our vitamin D status, beyond that which can be obtained naturally from sunlight, by supplementing, might help to prevent severe disease. Resveratrol, derived from the skin of red grapes, at a dose of 500mg per day, has been shown to reduce rates of hospitalisation and pneumonia. Although there isn’t any hard evidence taking extra zinc, vitamin C, quercetin, a vitamin-like substance and adopting other immune boosting and virus defeating strategies might help to ward off this formidable foe.