As coronavirus cases ebb and flow across the world—where some countries have been more successful than others to tackle, and in some cases, even avoid a full-blown outbreak—health experts and governments are moving on to the next great worry: the second wave of covid-19.
In the debate on how best and effectively to control covid-19 and “flatten the curve”, there hasn’t been any one clear strategy that has worked for everyone. Countries that were quick to respond to the epidemic and subsequently develop a plan were able to flatten the curve faster, but were not uniform in their responses. They adopted a range of interventions—from aggressive testing, isolating, and contract tracing with no lockdown to complete lockdowns and testing only symptomatic cases to partial lockdowns to restrictions on mobility and so on. Ultimately, strategies that were best suited for their demographics and economic circumstances.
Subsequently, there was a debate on herd immunity, that claimed that if enough members of the population (>60%) were to contract the virus, it would stop spreading. This assertion hinged entirely on the notion that once a person was infected, they would develop antibodies against the coronavirus which will fight against any reinfection. Developing immunity would also mean that the “cured” patient would not spread the virus to others that they come in contact with.
But preliminary research now shows that recovery from covid-19 may not have a lasting impact on immunity and in fact, the level of antibodies for the novel virus may fall quicker than other viruses. A study conducted in King’s College London found that the level of antibodies could become undetectable by testing as early as three months after the infection. This has implications for potential vaccines that companies are developing and testing and studies are now being geared toward determining a threshold safe period where re-infection is unlikely as well as defining the rate of decline of the antibodies after 90 days.
The search for treatment is ongoing. Scientists are working on vaccines—many of which are in their late-stage clinical trials—while many antiviral drugs, some already in use for other illnesses are being tested. But no company has provided a timeline to how soon the medicine or vaccine could be made available in the market place. In addition, once the drug is launched, how fast it could reach the world and how widely is also a concern.
Because of the uncertainty of treatment or cure, it is clear that countries that are in fact, flattening the curve (Pakistan could be one soon as daily cases swiftly come down), they must not go back hastily to the pre-covid era. Caution should be raised; authorities should remain on high alert and the larger moving population must continue to socially distance and adopt covid-safe practices such as washing hands and wearing masks. It is not over until there is a cure.