The World Health Organization on Wednesday laid out three possible paths that the Covid-19 pandemic might follow in 2022 — with a new, more virulent variant as the worst-case scenario.
The WHO said the most likely way forward was that the severity of disease caused by the virus would wane over time, due to greater public immunity. But the UN health agency also said a more dangerous variant of concern than Omicron could be lurking around the corner.
The WHO’s updated Covid-19 Strategic Preparedness, Readiness, and Response Plan was announced, with WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus expecting it would be the final one.
It lays out three possible scenarios for how the third year of the pandemic will pan out
“The most likely scenario, based on what we know now, is that the virus continues to mutate, but the severity of sickness it causes decreases over time as immunity increases due to vaccination and infection,” Tedros said at a press conference
He said periodic spikes in cases and deaths might occur as immunity wanes, which may require occasional booster vaccinations for vulnerable people.
“In the best-case scenario, we may see fewer severe variations arise, eliminating the need for boosters or new vaccine formulations,” he said.
“A more virulent and highly transmissible variation evolves in the worst-case scenario. People’s protection against severe sickness and death, whether through earlier vaccination or infection, will swiftly decrease in the face of this new threat.”
Tedros said that scenario would require significantly altering the currently-available vaccines, and then making sure they get delivered to the people most vulnerable to severe disease.
Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on Covid-19, said the virus still has “a lot of energy left”, going into the third year of the pandemic.
More than 10 million new cases and 45,000 fatalities were reported to the WHO last week, with the organization predicting that the number of new infections will be far higher due to lower testing rates.
More than 479 million confirmed cases and more than six million fatalities had been recorded by the end of last week, while WHO concedes that the true toll could be several times higher.