World

The World May Need to Learn to Live With the Virus

Only two countries have fully vaccinated more than half of their populations, according to the Our World in Data project at the University of Oxford. They are Israel and the East African nation of the Seychelles, an archipelago with a population of fewer than 100,000. And just a handful of other countries have at least partially vaccinated nearly 50 percent or more, including Britain, tiny Bhutan, and the United States.

Less than 10 percent of India’s vast population is at least partly vaccinated, offering little check to its onslaught of infections.

In Africa, the figure is slightly more than 1 percent.

Still, public health experts say a relatively small number of countries, mostly island nations, have largely kept the virus under control and could continue keeping it at bay after vaccinating enough people.

New Zealand, through stringent lockdowns and border closures, has all but eliminated the virus. Dr. Michael Baker, an epidemiologist at the University of Otago who helped devise the country’s coronavirus response, said New Zealand would likely achieve herd immunity by immunizing its population, but it has a long way to go with only about 4.4 percent of New Zealanders at least partially vaccinated.

“All of the surveys show there is a degree of vaccine hesitancy in New Zealand, but also a lot of people are very enthusiastic,” Dr. Baker said. “So I think we will probably get there in the end.”

While new daily cases have remained at near-world record levels, the number of deaths has dropped from a peak in February, going against the normal pattern of high cases followed eventually by high deaths. If that trendline continues, it could offer a glimmer of hope for a future scenario that scientists are rooting for: Even as the virus spreads and seems to be hurtling toward becoming endemic, it could become a less lethal threat that can be managed with vaccines that are updated periodically to protect against variants.

“It may be endemic, but not in a life-threatening way,” Dr. Michael Merson, a professor of global health at Duke University and former director of the World Health Organization’s Global Program on AIDS said. “It may be more like what we see with young kids, a common cold like disease.”

Madeleine Ngo contributed reporting.


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