Covid’s Not Done with Us Yet
With the success of Covid-19 vaccination programs in the US and abroad, Covid deaths and cases of extreme illness have fallen well below the numbers of the worst of the pandemic in many parts of the world.
This is undeniably a good thing, but it shouldn’t be misinterpreted as resolution of the threat to public health; a false sense of security fed by pandemic fatigue could turn this hard-won bit of victory back upon us as dangerous complacency. Vaccination efforts have already begun to stall across the globe.
The last thing anybody wants, it’s safe to say, is a repeat of the days when refrigerated trucks became morgues on wheels.
But don’t rule it out just yet.
Far From Over
Though much of the world has by now been vaccinated – about 5 billion total, or 66% of the population, according to estimates of the WHO – it’s the fractured, often halting, inconsistent process of the vaccination effort that’s behind breakthrough surges of Covid emergence.
There are gaps in the process of acquiring protection for the entire population through vaccination. Each country observes different restrictions and uses different vaccines, and not everyone follows the same science at the same time. Through these gaps, surges, or “waves,” of Covid infection still break through. Breakthrough waves allow the virus to continue its evolution into still more unpredictable variations (like Delta and Omicron). And with every new form, with each change, the virus evolves… getting better at its job.
China vs. Covid… Again
Such a resurgent wave of Covid is currently underway in China, where the population is largely naïve to Omicron and its subvariants. Due to China’s “Zero-Covid” policy and intermittent nationwide lockdowns since the earliest days of the pandemic, its population had not been exposed to most of the variants that other countries have by now built significant immunity against, including Omicron.
In December, Chinese President Xi Jinping relaxed many of the restrictions that had been in place, including those on travel, just in time for the Chinese Lunar New Year. The result has been an explosive, deadly surge of infection crisscrossing the country, largely consisting of Omicron and its subvariants — famously transmissible with each new iteration. It’s currently penetrating deeply into China’s rural countryside, affecting many older citizens in areas where health care services are lacking.
So far, while the variations we’re most familiar with in Europe and the Americas have grown more efficient and increasingly transmissible, they haven’t gotten deadlier. But our vaccines and boosters were developed to protect against these strains and curb transmission. China operates its own independent vaccination program. To close the gaps and quell the surges, a more collaborative, transparent sort of effort is needed.
Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch
And then here at home, we have this new, worrying Kraken strain, if you can believe that. “Kraken” is a hybrid of two subvariants. Believed to have merged in a person who was concurrently infected with both subvariants at the same time (”…in this case, two offshoots of the Omicron BA.2 sublineage”), the crazy-catchable strain shows indications of being the most transmissible yet.
This is a favorite trick of the regular old workaday flu, this patchworking hybridization of itself. But it’s still early, folks. Kraken has quickly overtaken the position of dominance in hospitalizations in the northeastern US, accounting for 84% of current infections in the country, according to the CDC.
Keep your eyes open.