What will happen if we all get COVID-19Health | January 11, 2022, Tuesday // 17:18| views
The debate over COVID-19 is increasingly being discussed as to whether it is not better for the infection to spread en masse so that everyone can get sick and gain natural immunity. But this is not a good idea. DW explains why:
In the discussion about COVID-19 in Germany, there is more and more talk about whether it is not good for the infection to spread among the masses so that everyone gets sick and acquires natural immunity. This issue has become particularly relevant since the Omicron variant began to spread extremely rapidly.
"This may not be a good option"
Tobias Kurth, director of the Institute of Public Health at the Charité Clinic in Berlin and professor of epidemiology and public health, said it would be appalling to spread the virus en masse. "This issue is essentially about creating basic immunity in the population," he added.
The crucial question, in this case, is: with more and more people now being infected with the coronavirus, could we not hope that one day everyone would have had the disease and the population will gain immunity? In other words, isn't it better to just wait and see what happens?
“No, this is certainly not a good decision”, said German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach, who is an epidemiologist. "Mass infection cannot be a good option," he said in an interview with n-tv, explaining: "Even if Omicron does not cause as severe a disease as the Delta mutation, there will still be too many people in which COVID-19 will cause permanent damage."
The so-called "basic", or "herd," immunity, which Tobias Kurth says should be the focus of attention, occurs when the immune system of many people is able to fight the virus effectively - not just after infection, but thanks to immunizations. "The crucial thing, in this case, is to activate the immune system either through contact with the SARS-CoV-2 virus or through a vaccine," the expert explained. "We hope that one day there will be enough people who have had such contact so that severe forms of COVID-19 do not occur again and there are not too many people who are ill at the same time.”
As the pandemic waves weaken, the current SARS-CoV-2 pandemic will gradually become endemic, i.e. it will begin to resemble seasonal flu without disrupting public health.
It is difficult to say exactly when such a time will occur, as the immune response against COVID-19 is not stable. People who have had the disease and recovered can become infected again. The same applies to vaccinated people - this is mainly due to the fact that new variants of the virus are constantly emerging.
Fortunately, the immune system to some extent "remembers" its previous contact with the virus and reacts, thus preventing a new severe course of the disease.
"Contact with one of the new virus variants is similar to contact with a person who speaks a dialect form of the same language. If I speak literary German and the other person speaks a Bavarian dialect, we will be able to talk, although we do not fully understand each other," said. Tobias Kurth.
But in order for the immune system to respond to such a "dialect" and protect us from a more severe form of COVID-19, it must have previously come into contact with the virus or vaccine. According to the Robert Koch Institute, more than 15% of Germany's adult population has not yet been vaccinated. In some federal states, their share is even over 25%.
Is mass infection dangerous for everyone?
The people in question will be at extremely high risk if a mass infection occurs. Then there would be an incredibly large number of people who will get sick. This scenario is completely realistic, given how highly contagious the Omicron variant is, Kurt warns.
Mass penetration of the virus would be too risky for children and young people. In Germany, for example, there are almost 40% of young people between the ages of 12 and 17 who have not been vaccinated at all. In this age group, as well as among younger children, COVID-19 is usually milder and without severe symptoms. However, experts warn that so far there is not much information about the possible long-term damage that the disease causes to the body. That is why young people should be protected from possible diseases.
"Even vaccinated people are not completely protected from the dangerous disease," warns Tobias Kurth. “Those who have been vaccinated or have had the disease can also become seriously ill, although much less frequently. To consciously allow the possibility of mass infection would be to play Russian roulette. Such a risk would be unreasonably high," said the epidemiologist.
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