Can the corona pandemic be defeated without vaccination? According to an infectiologist from the USA, there are already signs that the virus will develop into a harmless pathogen in the future.
Will the coronavirus be harmless in the long term? Even without vaccinations and herd immunity, the Sars-Cov-2 pathogen could become less dangerous in the future. The US infectiologist Jennie Lavine from Emory University in Atlanta is already seeing signs that the coronavirus could become an endemic pathogen. The researcher published her findings in the specialist magazine “Science”. According to the German Center for Infection Research, diseases are termed “endemic”, “which occur permanently in a limited region or population”. The number of cases of illness remains roughly the same in the long term, but people get sick less seriously.
New forecast: coronaviruses could become harmless in the future
The four other types of coronavirus that have been circulating around the world for some time have also become endemic pathogens. Lavine and her employees, therefore, assume that Sars-Cov-2 will also become harmless to mankind in the long term.
The well-known coronaviruses “NL63”, “229E”, “OC43” and “HKU1” regularly cause epidemics, but mainly small children between the ages of three and five become ill. The probability of dying from the disease is very low in this age group – which is already the case with infections with the Sars-Cov-2 pathogen.
After infection with endemic coronaviruses, those infected also remain short-term but completely immune. In an experimental study with the type “229E” virus, for example, it was found that a new infection was possible after just one year. The reason for this is the drop in antibodies in the blood. Even after a Covid 19 illness, there are only indications of short-term immunity.
Corona “partial immunity” after infection: Fewer people get sick
In the study with the 229E pathogen, however, it was also shown that the virus was excreted in the body for a shorter period of time when it was reinfected. The subjects had no symptoms. As Lavine explains, this is due to a “lifelong partial immunity”: After the first infection, the body develops a certain resistance to the pathogen. If epidemics occur more frequently, this effect can be intensified by repeated contact with the virus.
According to Lavine, there are indications of this partial immunity for coronaviruses in the “seroprevalence”. As the German Center for Infection Research explains, the seroprevalence describes “the frequency of specific antibodies in the blood serum that indicate an existing or past infectious disease.”
According to studies, antibodies against the four known coronaviruses can also be detected in most people at an older age – on the other hand, certain antibodies that are only formed at the beginning of infection were no longer detectable in people over 15 years of age. This suggests that few adolescents and adults actually get sick, Lavine said.
Will more Covid-19 infections in children soon?
However, older people could still become infected and pass the pathogen on to children unnoticed. According to Lavine, the high rate of infection among small children by endemic viruses cannot be explained entirely without the participation of older age groups.
If Sars-Cov-2 turns into an endemic pathogen in the next few years, there would be fewer serious illnesses or deaths among older people thanks to partial immunity. The vaccination against the new coronavirus would probably no longer be necessary.
Lavine and her colleagues, therefore, recommend that the vaccination strategy should pay particular attention to infections in children: If the first infection in children is only mild, the vaccination may be unnecessary. If, on the other hand, the course of the initial infection becomes more difficult, for example with illnesses caused by the Mers virus, at least children should continue to be vaccinated.