“I think 2022 will be the final year of the COVID-19 pandemic in most countries. With anti-viral pills on the way, health officials won’t need to work on vaccine adoption curves as hard as they do right now. It is futile. If data from over 3B fully vaccinated people doesn’t help, nothing will. :-) When people land up in a hospital next year, they’ll just get the anti-viral pill.” | from my post 3 days ago.
I was feeling particularly optimistic about 2022 being the final year of the COVID-19 pandemic 3 days ago. After spending some time learning about the Omicron variant, I feel less sure.
First, let’s get the obvious out of the way – the mutation pattern of the Omicron variant (21K) makes Delta look like a light appetizer.
Second, we don’t know much as it is still very early. So, we don’t know (a) how contagious it is, (b) how likely it is to evade immunity from vaccines/past variants, (c) how deadly it is.
But, thanks to some incredible work by healthcare officials, doctors, and healthcare workers in South Africa, we have a very early warning. This is huge. I am hopeful it will not be squandered.
Third, there are reasons to be both optimistic and pessimistic. Optimism makes sense because we should have variant-specific booster shots ready within 100 days. That’s awesome. We’ve come a long way since March 2020.
But, there are reasons to be pessimistic as well. The key in handling a new variant is acting quickly. This means ensuring the some restrictions are brought back (masking indoors, sadly) without going down the path of restrictions that clearly don’t work (travel bans, lockdowns – which have lost support and thus effectiveness). On that note, I thought this graphic about the ineffectiveness of selective travel bans was on point.
Fourth, spare a thought for executives working on “return-to-office” plans. Every new variant is a punch in the gut for these plans. Normalcy may be delayed again.
Finally, this development is one that illustrates just how quickly our world can change. Probabilistic thinking and agility when faced by change are among the most important skills we can develop.
PS: In case you’d like to dig deeper – Andy Slavitt, Noah Smith, and Zeynep Tufecki all had useful posts on Omicron. And, Eric Topol remains the best source of COVID-19 related information I’ve come across.