Linking the words “coronavirus” and “long-term” is still difficult. Because no one knows how the virus will develop, and with it our lives in the coming years. “We really can’t accurately estimate the next ten years,” says Bernd Salzberger, professor and head of the Department of Infectious Diseases at the University Hospital in Regensburg. Empirical values are (yet) not enough. That is why there is no long-term strategy.
Almost three years have passed since the eruption. And even if the course of the disease has become milder, there are no longer any protective measures at many Christmas markets in the country, and the obligation to self-isolate has also been lifted in some federal states, the likelihood of corona infection is still high. And it will likely remain so in the coming years. But what does this do to our body, what does it mean for us as a society, our healthcare system, and our working world?
“To be honest, we don’t know for sure,” Salzberger says. However, he points out that “every year we face many pathogens.” For example, many people get infected with the flu virus many times in their lives. “By the way, also with some coronoviruses,” says the chairman of the German Society for Infectious Diseases. “No one can predict whether we will get infected ten or three times and how our body will deal with it.”
Long term development not foreseen
The risk of contracting Long Covid is also still present. In the future, a significant portion of our society is likely to suffer such a disease. “Here, too, it is impossible to foresee long-term development,” says Salzberger. “But the risk probably doesn’t increase with each infection, it tends to decrease.”
However, there are currently no solutions that can turn this ignorance into security. “We know that waves of infection can generally be prevented through vaccination and immunity,” the expert says. This body’s immunity to some infectious diseases usually improves with each infection or vaccination – “but above all when they are combined.”
Are the old vaccines useless now?
Current vaccines provide good protection against infections with the original strain of the virus, Salzberger said. But because the corona virus, like the flu virus, is constantly changing, this protection has been lost in what is known as viral evolution. “With the new vaccines, we have adapted vaccines for the first time. However, we still know too little about whether they have a better anti-infection effect in the omicron variants,” explains Salzberger.
So the previous vaccines are now useless? “Above all, we are delighted that the early use of these vaccines has saved many millions of lives,” emphasizes Salzberger. In addition, they could still contribute something, even if they no longer provide protection against infection. “Older vaccines, such as the original Comirnaty, can be used as a booster dose and thus reduce the chance of complications from infection in high-risk patients.”
They are also shared with other countries, for example through Covax (Global Access to Covid-19 Vaccines). This WHO initiative aims to ensure equal and fair access to Covid-19 vaccines worldwide. “But a part will certainly also be destroyed if the expiration date has expired,” says Salzberger.
In the future, and for new variants of SARS-CoV-2, “we need either regularly adapted vaccines or new ones developed using new methods that provide better mucosal immunity and possibly also provide broader protection against new variants.” According to Salzberger, “they are feverishly working on it.”