Will there be a 5th wave of COVID-19 this winter? – Community News
Covid-19

Will there be a 5th wave of COVID-19 this winter?


Vaccines will curb infections and disease

For starters, about 60 percent of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated against COVID, meaning nearly 200 million people will be highly protected from hospitalization if they become infected with the coronavirus. Millions of new eligible children ages 5 to 11 will be added to those numbers alone.

“So even if the number of cases increases this winter, it’s very unlikely we’ll see a return to the overcrowded ICUs and makeshift morgues of a year ago,” said David Dowdy, MD, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Medicine. Public Health, at a recent media briefing.

Unvaccinated people are more than 11 times more likely to die from COVID than vaccinated individuals, according to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At the peak of last winter, when the vaccines were just being rolled out, an average of 3,400 people died from the disease every day. Now that average, while still alarming, hovers around 1,000.

And while the vaccines aren’t 100 percent effective at preventing infections, a significant portion of the population will be vaccinated to prevent cases from spiraling out of control, experts predict. Unvaccinated individuals are about six times more likely to test positive for COVID than their vaccinated peers. What’s more, people who are vaccinated and do get COVID are less likely to spread it to others, studies show.

Last November, the US saw about 160,000 new infections every day; now we’re counting about 80,000, “which is still very high, but you’re not seeing that exponential growth that we saw last year,” Madad said.

“Last year everyone was at risk,” said Catherine Troisi, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Texas Health School of Public Health. “This year you can protect yourself.”

Treating COVID-19 Could Be Easier

Another factor that could make this winter less deadly than the last: advances in the treatment of COVID-19.

Two drugmakers, Merck and Pfizer, have applied to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency use of antiviral pills that they believe can significantly reduce the risk of hospitalization and death in people infected with the virus.

The FDA’s expert advisory panel will soon review the data for the oral antivirals. If authorized, the pills will be the first at-home treatment designed to prevent the disease from progressing. Currently available treatments must be administered in a healthcare facility.

“If you have COVID-19 — and especially if you have a weakened immune system or are otherwise at risk — these are a game-changer,” Dowdy said. But when it comes to preventing infection in the first place, “vaccines are by far our best tool and will continue to be,” he added.

It is important to ‘stay vigilant’

The coronavirus still has some advantages this winter. Cold weather pushes people inside, where germs, including the one that causes COVID-19, spread more easily. Some states in the Northeast, even those with high vaccination coverage, are already seeing a spike in COVID cases, Troisi stressed.

Add to that the fact that virus transmission, primarily driven by the extremely contagious delta variant, is still high in most of the US, meaning “you’re more likely to come into contact with the virus and get it.” is exposed,” says Madad said. And with the holiday season approaching, more people will take to the rails, roads and skies to visit friends and family, giving the virus even more opportunities to circulate.

“If you’re not vaccinated, you should be concerned,” Madad said, pointing to the relentless delta variant, which has seen the number of cases soar this summer. “The data and the science are clear: you are at a very high risk of being exposed to the virus and potentially having serious consequences.”

When you’re fully vaccinated, “the sky doesn’t fall down; you’re still well protected,” she added. However, a booster shot, if you qualify, can provide even more protection. This also applies to wearing a mask in indoor public areas.

“The bottom line is that the number of cases is increasing and it’s time to stay vigilant,” Madad said.

How many coronavirus waves will we see?

When will all these COVID peaks level off for good? That’s a little harder to predict, the experts say, and the virus has surprised us before. But the pandemic as we know it is likely to shift as we gain more control over the outbreak, Anthony Fauci, MD, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said in a recent news briefing.

“We don’t really know what that number is, but we’ll know when we get there,” he said. “It is certainly much, much lower than 80,000 new infections per day, and it is much, much lower than 1,000 deaths per day and tens of thousands of hospitalizations.”

In the meantime, seasonal waves are likely to continue, Dowdy said, adding that we could see them for many years, “if not for our lives.” But as we build immunity to the virus, COVID will likely get milder over time, he said, which is why getting vaccines into the arms of as many people as possible is so important.

“The world may never look like it was before the pandemic, and we may still get a winter wave this year. But from a COVID-19 perspective, there are many reasons to believe that things will be much better in 2022 than they have been for us in the past two years,” Dowdy said.