COVID-19 is on the rise again. Many thought that the recurrent spikes were supposed to be seasonal, like the flu, but this disease seems to have a mind of its own.
Increases in the rates of infection are putting health services everywhere under stress, though less than when we did not have the vaccine.
I am writing these lines as I nurse my own COVID-19 infection. In the UK, every one of us seems to know someone who is suffering from the virus — the old, the young, the vulnerable and especially the children. Similar rises are being registered in France, China and the Middle East, which look likely to dampen the holidays that are only now kick-starting again after two and a half years of disruption.
The war in Ukraine, rising fuel prices, inflation, the cost of living globally and food shortages have seemingly pushed information about the new omicron subvariants to the bottom of the news cycle. Those pressures have even led governments to reduce funding for scientific modeling that engages in the day-to-day follow-up on the progress of COVID-19 and its variants and advises on how to lessen their impact on people and industries worldwide.
Have we become complacent again? Are we failing to respect the virus and its multitude of variants? Have we, above all, decided to abandon all that we learned in the past 30 months about taming the virus through social distancing, appropriate hygiene, ventilation and wearing face masks where possible to limit the inhalation of airborne droplets, which is the main method of transmission?
Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 are to blame for this latest surge. They are armed with the original omicron variant’s ability to spread rapidly and overcome the immune defenses deployed by our bodies to keep the virus out.
Research in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that BA.4 and BA.5 can “substantially escape” the protection afforded by vaccines and previous infections. A similar study in Science magazine showed that omicron is like a “stealth virus” that does not arm you to fight reinfection.