What a virologist says will help put an end to the COVID-19 pandemic

One virologist is saying that in order for the COVID-19 pandemic to end, it needs to be treated as a global issue so that all parts of the world have access to vaccines.

“My words of optimism are that pandemics always do end at some point,” said virologist Jason Kindrachuk in an interview on Monday.

“It’s going to take a while, though. The big concern for us is that ongoing transmission allows the virus to continue to change and continue to mutate and then we ultimately will see, potentially, these variants emerging.”

Kindrachuk said ending the pandemic comes down to vaccine equity.

He explained there are large parts of that world that don’t have access to vaccines, don’t have a sustainable supply of vaccines or don’t have the health-care infrastructure to be able to release the vaccines to the public.

“We need to be tackling this as a true global pandemic and not just as a regional pandemic,” Kindrachuk said.

THE OMICRON VARIANT

Kindrachuk said we are now starting to get more information on Omicron, the latest variant to emerge that has Manitoba health officials warning of a rapid increase in the coming days.

He noted that the variant has moved from South Africa to Europe and then to North America, adding that it is more transmissible than the Delta variant.

“Part of this is, is certainly this variant is able to subvert some of those early immune responses, some of those neutralizing antibodies that we get following vaccination or exposure to the virus. That also impacts its ability to be more transmissible,” he said.

Kindrachuk said researchers are trying to determine what makes the Omicron variant so transmissible, adding that the epidemiological data shows the doubling time is likely somewhere between two and three days.

“That’s drastically higher than what we’ve seen so far with Delta,” he said.

He said more time is needed to do laboratory investigation, but the problem is getting the reagents and virus isolated for work in the lab.

“There’s always a time lag, and unfortunately the doubling time of this virus has far overtaken and exceeded that ability for us to get that conclusive evidence we need,” Kindrachuk said.

VACCINES AND OMICRON

Kindrachuk explained that there’s an understanding that the neutralizing antibodies from two vaccine doses are not enough to suppress the ability of Omicron to infect people.

“We may see some benefit, but certainly we see some loss,” he said.

He said one good thing is that the T-cell responses that are part of a person’s immune system seem to be maintained to some degree.

“That’s important, because that’s going to help us with that protection from severe disease and the consequences of being infected,” Kindrachuk said.

“I think right now, it’s a strategy of saying – people that have two doses, you likely have good protection from severe disease, [but] high-risk is going to be concerned. We have to be worried about those populations. But that third dose is going to hopefully help us at least suppress some of that transmission in our communities and keep those people that haven’t been vaccinated yet safe.”

TREATING PEOPLE TO REDUCE HOSPITALIZATIONS

Kindrachuk said a supportive care strategy works well when it comes to treating COVID-19 cases.

“So steroids for those that have been in longer-term care. Certainly putting people on mechanical ventilation if they need it has certainly helped,” he said.

However, he noted, antiviral drugs could soon become a possibility.

“That’s important, because we need to have those drugs for people that have those breakthrough cases, where they’re ending up in hospitals or people that have not yet been vaccinated if they end up in hospital, we’ll be able to give them treatment, so they don’t necessarily progress to that severe state,” he said.

Kindrachuk said we’ll hopefully hear more information on antivirals soon, and whether they’ve been approved.

– With files from CTV’s Nicole Dube.

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