The pandemic is not going to end anytime soon – with only a small portion of the world’s population vaccinated against Covid-19, a well-known epidemiologist told CNBC.
Dr. Larry Brilliant, an epidemiologist who was part of the World Health Organization team that helped eradicate smallpox, said the Delta variant was “perhaps the most contagious virus” of all time.
In the last few months, the USA, India and China as well as other countries in Europe, Africa and Asia have grappled with a highly transmissible delta variant of the virus.
The WHO declared Covid-19 a global pandemic last March – after the disease, which first appeared in China in late 2019, spread around the world.
The good news is that vaccines – especially those with messenger RNA technology and those from Johnson & Johnson – exist against the Delta variant, Brilliant told CNBC’s Squawk Box Asia on Friday.
If we don’t all vaccinate in over 200 countries, there will always be new variants.
Still, only 15% of the world’s population are vaccinated and more than 100 countries have vaccinated less than 5% of their population, noted Brilliant.
“I think we’re closer to the beginning than the end [of the pandemic]and that’s not because the variant we’re looking at will last that long, “said Brilliant, who is now the founder and CEO of Pandefense Advisory.
“If we don’t all vaccinate in over 200 countries, there will always be new varieties,” he said, predicting that the coronavirus will eventually become a “forever virus” like influenza.
Probability of the ‘Supervariant’
Brilliant said its models of the Covid outbreak in San Francisco and New York predict an “inverted V-shaped epidemic curve”. That means that the infections are increasing very quickly, but also decreasing quickly, he said.
If the prediction turns out to be true, it means that the delta variant is spreading so quickly that “basically the candidates are running out” to infect, explained Brilliant.
There appears to be a similar pattern in the UK and India, where the prevalence of the Delta variant has declined from recent highs.
But I’m warning people that this is the Delta variant and we haven’t run out of Greek letters yet, so there might be more to come.
Daily reported cases in the UK – a seven-day moving average – fell from a high of around 47,700 cases on July 21 to around 26,000 cases on Thursday, according to statistics from the online database Our World in Data.
In India, the seven-day moving average of daily reported cases has remained below 50,000 since the end of June – well below the high of more than 390,000 a day in May, the data showed.
“That may mean that in one country this is more of a six month phenomenon than a two year phenomenon. But I’m warning people that this is the Delta variant and we haven’t run out of Greek letters so there may be more to do, ”he said.
The epidemiologist said there was a small chance that a “super variant” would show up and vaccines would not work against it. While these things are difficult to predict, he added, there is a non-zero probability, which means it cannot be ruled out.
“It is such a catastrophic event, should it happen we must do everything we can to prevent it,” said Brilliant. “And that means everyone will be vaccinated – not just in your neighborhood, not just in your family, not just in your country, but around the world.”
Covid vaccine booster
Some countries with relatively high vaccination rates, such as the US and Israel, are planning to booster their populations. Others, like Haiti, have only recently secured their first doses of the vaccine.
WHO has urged wealthy countries to suspend Covid vaccine boosters to allow low-income countries to vaccinate their populations.
But in addition to having a booster vaccination in countries with lower vaccination rates, Brilliant said, a group of people need a booster vaccination “immediately” – those 65 years and older who were fully vaccinated more than six months ago, but have weakened immune systems.
“It’s this category of people that we’ve seen create multiple mutations as the virus passes through their bodies,” the epidemiologist said.
“So I would say these people should get a third dose right away, a booster shot – as soon as the vaccines are being moved to the countries that haven’t had a very high chance of buying them or having access to them, those two things are about the same, “he added.
– CNBC’s Rich Mendez contributed to this report.