When will we be able to come out of our pandemic isolation and resume life with high confidence that we will not contract Covid-19? We all want to know, but predicting the future is always an uncertain endeavor. Using science to predict the end of a pandemic one might best be guided by the adage "plan for the worst and hope for the best." In that spirit today I offer two different slants on pandemic prediction.
The first is written by a friend, Bruce Chassy. Dr. Chassy holds a Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from Cornell. He spent 21 years as a researcher at NIH and 23 years at the University of Illinois. This came to me (as well as the link to the more optimistic article below it) in email and is reproduced with permission:
What follows is a long post about where I think we are at in this pandemic. As you read, keep in mind that more and better therapies and vaccines could lead to a quicker and more favorable outcome. How about a pill that cures Covid-19? It could happen. What follows is based on where we are today, hopefully that will change for the better.
There was a story on one of the major networks yesterday about a documented case of someone who received the first vaccination on December 19th and now has a confirmed case of Covid-19.
95% means 19 out of 20 people are protected. Somebody has to be the 20th and after hiding from SARs-CoV-2 for almost a year I don’t want it to be me. Also unknown is whether a vaccinated person can contract and transmit to others without being ill.
So when can weget together? When 70-80% of the population is vaccinated and new infection rates have crashed to almost nothing is what I am waiting for. Do the math. There are ~330 million Americans. If 100M are vaccinated in the first hundred days and 30 million have post-infection immunity, that amounts to a 40% immunity level. If we assume these are non-spreaders then we would need to vaccinate another 100 million to reach 70% immunity. That would crash the new infection rate pretty effectively. It’s the low end of “herd immunity.” If 100 days gets up to 100M vaccinated as Biden hopes, and 200 days gets us to 200M, that will be sometime in early AUGUST... Approval of additional vaccines and significant increases in the rate of vaccination could also help control the pandemic. The bottom line is don’t expect to be socializing in restaurants and bars for a long time yet.
Herd immunity will not mean that Covid goes away. It will be reduced to scattered cases and possibly isolated outbreaks, which, if not controlled, will could lead to pockets of epidemic spread. Covid-19 could easily become like seasonal influenza or common colds. It could be eradicated but it won’t be. Had the US relied on natural herd immunity to control the pandemic around 3-5 million might have perished. New drugs and antibody therapy might have reduced the carnage. Historians would have named it Trump’s Holocaust.
The real danger here is that the more people who contract the disease the greater the chance for adverse mutations. We have already heard about fast spreading strains. Should one of those strains not be prevented by the current vaccines, we will be in a lot of trouble. A more lethal mutation could be even worse. That is why it was so important to have controlled SARs-CoV-2 as early as possible. Trump stole that opportunity from our public health experts. Trump couldn’t possibly have understood when the experts explained “More Cases” = "greater chance for disastrous mutations" because his evaluation was there was nothing in it for him. Anything that hurt the economy could hurt his chances for re-election. It’s water under the bridge, but had he mobilized the public health system in January 2020, closed the borders, applied the defense mobilization acts and committed to a national emergency effort to control Covid-19, we would not be where we are now. And where we are could be the edge of a very slippery slope because millions of cases mean millions of mutations. Genetics is a numbers game and organisms that multiply quickly change quickly.
As regards controlling Covid-19 Winston Churchill may have said it best:
“This is not the end, this is not even the beginning of the end, this is just perhaps the end of the beginning.”
I want to close today with something fun. For years now one of my favorite things has been the camaraderie of Sea Chanty singing. Recently, there has been renewed interest in Sea Chanty singingspurred by TikTok and longing for community made more poignant by pandemic isolation. At the link that follows watch a one minute video that combines Sea Chanty singing and vaccine science. It's a hoot. Definitely worth your minute::