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Covid19: Runaway Omicron Wave overtakes Delta in various countries

Omicron, a worrying new variant of SARS-CoV-2, has quickly overtaken all other variants in new waves of Covid-19 cases emerging in South Africa, UK, EU and states -United. More worryingly, Omicron is able to infect those who have received two doses of the vaccine or who have already had Covid earlier. This is supported by laboratory proof although they are still very preliminary results. The good news, if it can be called good news, is that most people who get vaccinated do not appear to be critically ill. This indicates that the body’s immune system, primed by the vaccine and possibly previous Covid infections, is still able to manage the disease and prevent it from progressing to a serious stage.

Some numbers are important here. As the emerging wave of Omicron left or was first detected in South Africa, the number of new cases began to decline, from a peak of around 27,000 to around 21,000 (23 December Worldometer figures) including in urban centers such as Johannesburg and Pretoria. However, we also have the example of the UK, where the number of new cases continues to rise, exceeding 100,000 for the first time. In most of the countries experiencing a new wave, Omicron is not only emerging as the dominant variant, but their numbers have already surpassed previous highs with no signs of abating.

While all of this may sound depressing, there is some positive news as well. Our bodies now have some immunity, either against past infections or against vaccines. Therefore, our immune system knows about the virus, although the first line of defense, the neutralizing antibodies, is not as effective against Omicron. But our immune system has many other layers of defense, including T cells. When the virus enters our cells, it takes control of the cellular machinery to create a certain number of copies of itself. When an infection multiplies in our body taking control of our cellular machinery, then we have a much more serious case. T cells kill infected cells and prevent the virus from multiplying inside our body, effectively stopping infections. Therefore, earlier infection or vaccines may not prevent infection with Omicron, but as the first evidence suggests, this always prevents the infection from spreading much further. Both doses of vaccine (or infection and vaccine) seem to prime the immune system better and are more likely to prevent severe cases than infection.

Some evidence, although very preliminary, is emerging that Omicron infections do not cause a large number of severe cases like Delta did. It’s possible that Omicron itself is causing a milder form of the disease and therefore not causing as many severe cases as previous variants. Or that most people in countries with large numbers of cases are either already vaccinated or have had previous infections, or a combination of the two. As we know, a large number of infections are asymptomatic and therefore may not have been diagnosed as Covid-19, but still confer some immunity. Most people in countries who have seen or are seeing the new Omicron wave are either vaccinated or have been through previous waves of Covid-19, so have some existing immunity. They do get sick but not seriously, with their immune systems going on even a little late. Regarding vaccines, experts have always clarified that vaccines can not prevent infections but will stop serious diseases: they prevent or reduce hospitalizations and intensive care.

Read also : Not Omicron, but the greed of capital threatens the world

The other possibility is that Omicron itself causes a less severe form of the disease. From preliminary reports from London hospitals, it appears that the bulk of severe cases in London hospitals are from the unvaccinated population. As London has 70% of its population fully vaccinated, this would show that it’s not that Omicron is creating a milder form of Covid-19, but that if they are vaccinated, people are less likely to progress to one form. more serious of the disease. Vaccination prevents serious illness and the collapse of hospitals, as we have seen in previous waves. This is why vaccination is still essential in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

While vaccination is the essential difference between a new wave overwhelming hospitals and their intensive care systems, what about other drugs that have been used against Covid-19 infections? Ivermectin, hydroxychloroquine and convalescent plasma have already been shown to be ineffective in the treatment of Covid-19. In addition to corticosteroids which reduce inflammation in the lungs, remdesivir and monoclonal antibodies have been shown to be helpful in reducing the spread of the virus in the body. The bad news is that the new monoclonal antibody treatments specifically developed for Covid-19 do not seem to work.

The good news is that newer drugs like molupiravir and Paxlovid, a combination of two antivirals, nirmatrelvir and ritonavir, will still work. These drugs, like remdesivir, reduce the multiplication of the virus, allowing the body’s defense mechanism to have enough breathing space to intervene and stop the infection. Newer antivirals are more effective than remdesivir and can have a significant impact on reducing hospital admissions or hospital stays.

The three antivirals — remdesivir, molupiravir, and Paxlovid — are small molecules that can be easily made by any drug company; and manufactured in large quantities. Unlike vaccine manufacturing, which deals with large molecules or biological products, there is no such obstacle to their transfer of know-how and rapid manufacturing in quantities, even to less developed countries.

This leads us to know why, despite science, or more precisely scientists, having developed vaccines and drugs against Covid-19 so rapidly, we are still unable to vaccinate the world or make drugs and vaccines available. to people who desperately need it? Why the number of vaccine recalls in rich countries far exceed the total number of vaccines given to low-income countries? Why can’t we make a concerted effort to demand that the patents on antivirals be lifted? Or break those patents like the WTO rules allow countries to do during pandemics? Why don’t rich countries want to stop the global pandemic and focus on saving their people while letting the pandemic continue in the rest of the world?

The answer is simple: They are much more interested in the huge profits their drug companies will make if the pandemic continues. The best course for Big Pharma is a continuation of the epidemic becoming endemic in rich countries protected by vaccines and antivirals, while poor countries continue to gain “natural” herd immunity from infections. This will protect the huge runaway profits that they manufacture. Looking ahead too, the rich in poor countries will fall somewhere in between, living with an ongoing pandemic while having access to drugs and vaccines that may be too expensive for most of their population.

Omicron has shown that such a balance where the rich are protected while the poor are not, is unlikely to last long. Either we stop infections everywhere if we want everyone to be safe; or no one will be safe. A Apartheid vaccination schemee — where some are protected while most of the world’s population is not—will not work. It will only give birth to new variants. This is the lesson public health practitioners learned a century ago, and it still stands. It is incompatible with the hypercapitalist vision that led to the neoliberal reforms to dismantle the public health system and the new TRIPS patent regime. This is what we have to fight.

In India, we have to ask our government why India, which prided itself on being the pharmacy of the world, failed to deliver the vaccines to its own people as promised? We failed to deliver two doses of vaccine to the target population. Only 56% of India’s target adult population received two doses. And unlike the West, we have very little anti-vaccine opinion in the country, so that’s not the reason we can’t vaccinate our people. We have the scientific know-how and the vaccine manufacturing capability. We could have increased these capacities not only to meet our needs, but also to become a supplier of vaccines to the world. Like China made.

Why has the Indian government failed? Is it because he believed in the myth that capitalism and the markets alone solve all problems? The answer, and this is what Big Pharma has shown time and time again, is that corporate profits don’t equal people’s health. The Covid-19 pandemic further confirms this; unless we are in the grip of the capitalist mythology of benevolent markets.

Also watch: “Omicron”: the threat that is spreading rapidly around the world

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