The coronavirus dilemma lies between developing mass immunity and coping with the severe cases

As a layman I am still trying to understand the thinking which is leading to the political decisions surrounding the different country responses. This is just thinking aloud to get my own thoughts in order.

It seems to me that whereas it is desirable, in the long term, for as many as possible to be mildly infected (as with mass vaccinations) and develop immunity, right now countries are shutting down their borders because:

  • the infection wave would be uncontrolled, and
  • the number of resulting severe cases would also be uncontrolled, and
  • the health services may not be able to cope

I read that the virus cannot be killed off. It may die out as the human population develops immunity and the virus itself mutates. Most people who are infected, recover and develop immunity. However, for those who are severely affected (maybe 10-15% of those infected) there are no specific treatment therapies yet established. It also seems that most of those severely affected are the elderly or those who are in close contact with sick patients (doctors and nurses). A vaccine, when developed, would effectively spread immunity without the risk of severe effects, especially among those at risk. From the almost panicked reactions of so many countries I suspect that they have access to some worrying data. This is probably that

  • There is no great success in treating the risk groups who are severely infected, and
  • the fatality rate among these high-risk groups is much higher than with conventional influenza.

I discern a 3-Phase strategy being implemented.

  1. The drastic country lock-downs is Phase One. It is not so much an effort to prevent infection but an effort to prevent infection at such a rate that the severe cases are too high for the health services to cope. Probably the lock-downs will last about a month (or two).
  2. This buys time to develop some effective treatment therapies for the severely affected which then leads to Phase Two where infection is allowed to proceed “naturally” but where there is a preparedness for the severely affected.
  3. Phase Three comes when a vaccine is available and mild “natural” infection together with vaccination for those at risk, leads to the virus becoming just another “flu virus”.

The long term goal is then for populations to develop immunity (natural and by vaccination) and to have treatments for the severely infected. There is no goal to eliminate the virus (which is probably impossible).

In my lifetime, I have not seen anything like the response to the Covid-19 response. I was travelling extensively during the SARS and H1N1 and HIV scares, but the responses then were nowhere near as drastic as now. We have aged into the risk group. We travel much less now. Self-isolation causes minor difficulties but is not so very traumatic. Certainly I would prefer to get any immunity from a vaccine rather than an untreatable “natural” infection. A new risk for us, though, is that the serious but “routine” hospital care we rely on will be delayed or postponed.


 

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