Wednesday, March 16, 2022

New Covid-19 variant is one of the most infectious diseases the earth has EVER seen - as renowned scientist warns EVERYONE is going to get it

A former World Health Organisation scientist says the new BA.2 Omicron subvariant sweeping the world is one of the most infectious diseases the Earth has seen - and almost everyone will be exposed to the virus.

While the now-dominant strain is not as deadly as previous ones, including Delta, it is up to six times more transmissible than the original strain of Covid-19, Professor Adrian Esterman told Daily Mail Australia.

Predictions of a big surge in cases became a reality in New South Wales on Wednesday with 30,402 positive tests returned in the previous 24 hours, almost triple the number reported on Tuesday.

The BA.2 variant is also up to 30 per cent more infectious than the initial BA.1 version of Omicron which forced the reinstitution of lockdowns at Christmas.

'We think [the first] Omicron is very similar to Delta and that BA.2 is then another 25-30 per cent more contagious,' James Wood, a public health mathematician at the University of NSW told Daily Mail Australia.

The higher risk of contagiousness comes from the variant's superior ability to 'evade' immunity - meaning even triple-vaccinated people are susceptible to catching the new strain.

The BA.2 version of Omicron has an ability to 'evade' immunity, which includes vaccination. While vaccination provides a high level of protection from severe disease, it is less effective against preventing someone from catching Omicron at all. That even applies to boosters.

Generally vaccines were more effective at preventing symptomatic infection from Delta than Omicron.

For example, someone who had two shots in 2021 and a booster at the start of January would now have a 50 per cent chance of catching BA.2 if exposed.

Professor Adrian Esterman, an epidemiologist and biostatistician, said it was very likely all Australians would be at risk of catching BA.2 this year - especially given the return of people to schools, offices and public transport.

'(At the moment) you are much more likely to get it; we're already seeing that with the case numbers going up,' he said.

But it is almost impossible to get an accurate reflection of its spread because so many rapid tests are being done at home and are going unreported.

The only objective, verifiable figures are the numbers of people in hospital with Covid. On Tuesday, that figure was 1,801 Australia-wide; a total that has been relatively steady throughout March. On January 25, there were 5,390.

While not everyone exposed to a virus is infected by it, BA.2's high 'basic reproduction number' or 'R0' of 12 - compared to 2.5 for the original Wuhan virus - could mean almost all Australians will come into contact with it in 2022.

The R0 is the average number of secondary infections produced by a typical case; an R0 of 12 means up to 12 people could be infected by each case.

'Everyone's been exposed to Covid-19, full-stop, and unless you're very careful you will be exposed again this year,' Professor Esterman said. 'With face mask mandates being dropped, social distancing being removed, the chances are even higher.

'Those things are put in place to dampen down transmissibility, that's the whole point. When you remove them it's just increasing transmission. 'If you remove all of those protections, then your transmissibility almost gets back to the basic reduction number because we have very little immunity.'

While Omicron is generally less severe than the Delta strain, it is serious enough for some people that Professor Esterman likened wanting to catch Covid to gambling with your health.

'If you say "I don't mind getting infected" it's a bit like Russian roulette because you do have that chance of getting seriously ill or having long-term health problems.'

Mr Esterman, who is 73, admitted his own son argues 'it's no worse than the flu'. 'To a certain extent, he's right: the death rates not worse than seasonal flu,' he said.

'The trouble is it causes more severe disease in vulnerable people than influenza, and it has the capacity to cause real damage to younger people too.

'There have been several cases of young, healthy and fit people dying from Covid. I cannot remember that ever happening with influenza.'

Professor Esterman said while death rates have dropped to now be comparable to the flu, Covid is far more infectious and the spectrum of long-term health impacts is much wider.

'Covid-19 can attack every part of the body, from clotting to the heart and brain. There have even been cases of young children with multi-system inflammatory condition.'

Professor Esterman said it was 'very likely' people suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome got it as an immune system response to a previous viral infection. 'These are the balance of risks individuals have to bear in mind.'

He pointed out that with six million reported deaths worldwide and 5,590 in Australia attributed to Covid-19, it was one of the deadliest pandemics in history.

Professor Esterman also issued a warning that the pandemic is 'not over' and it's been 'sheer luck' that we are not in the middle of a wave that is both more infectious and deadlier.

'It is true that pandemics become less infectious over time, but that happens over 100 years, not one year,' he said.

He described it as 'the toss of a coin' as to whether the next variant causes more severe illness. 'While it's true to say it's the beginning of the end, it's not the end yet,' he said.

Professor Esterman is an advocate of introducing a fourth dose for people at risk, who could include people with HIV/AIDs, kidney problems, diabetes, obesity and different cancers.


Top doctor has rubbished Pfizer's promotion of fourth Covid jab

A leading Australian doctor has slammed Pfizer's call for a fourth Covid jab, saying the company should use its staggering profits to provide vaccines for developing countries.

Dr Nick Coatsworth, who fronted the Government's vaccine rollout campaign, said Pfizer should 'stop doing press releases about how we need a fourth dose' and tackle other more pressing issues.

'How about you really surprise us and provide pneumococcal vaccine at cost to low income nations. Be like Astra,' the former deputy chief medical officer tweeted on Tuesday.

Pfizer raked in a record $US37billion in revenue from its Covid vaccine in 2021 making it one of the most lucrative products ever.

The United States based drug-maker's overall revenue doubled to $81.3billion and is forecasting a even bigger 2022, which will also see the release of its Covid pill Paxlovid.

'The CEO of Pfizer, Albert Bourla, has come out on two occasions talking about how we need a fourth dose of the Covid vaccine, the CEO of Moderna has done it as well,' he told Dr Coatsworth told

'It’s a problem because you don’t listen to the person who’s responsible for shareholder profits if they tell you to take a drug.'

In stark contrast, vaccine competitor AstraZeneca announced early on in 2020 it would not seek to profit from a Covid vaccine while the pandemic was in effect, only recently moving to a profit-based model.

Covid vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and other manufacturers have saved millions of lives worldwide with Pfizer's CEO claiming the outlook of the company had shifted.

'We are proud to say we have delivered both the first FDA-authorised vaccine against Covid-19 (with our partner, BioNTech) and the first FDA-authorised oral treatment for Covid-19,' Albert Boula said earlier this year.

'These successes have not only made a positive difference in the world, but I believe they have fundamentally changed Pfizer and its culture for ever.'

And yet the company has been criticised for keeping a tight grip on the recipe for its Covid vaccines and not supplying them at reduced cost to developing countries.

'Pfizer is now richer than most countries; it has made more than enough money from this crisis. It's time to suspend intellectual property and break vaccine monopolies,' Tim Bierley, from Global Justice Now told The Guardian last month.

Dr Coatsworth said Covid vaccines weren't the only ones that the pharma giant could provide to needy nations.

'[Pfizer's CEO] has on two occasions talked about how we need a fourth dose, the CEO of Moderna has done it as well... You don't listen to the person who's responsible for shareholder profits if they tell you to take a drug,' Dr Coatsworth said.

He said given Pfizer's massive revenue it could be a 'good corporate citizen' and subsidised its vaccines for low income countries.

'They don't do that and haven't done it for 20 years... It would be a simple and effective action... Pneumococcal disease is a bigger problem than Covid,' he said.

Pneumococcal disease is caused by any infection from Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria, which can cause pneumonia, meningitis, and blood infection.

The World Health Organization estimates 300,000 children under five die from the infection each year - mostly in poor countries - despite a vaccine being developed 20 years ago.

Dr Coatsworth said Pfizer could easily save lives by using some of its Covid profits to subsidise the vaccine for this disease in those countries - where its cost of up to $21 a dose can make it unaffordable.

Competitor Moderna said on Monday it would set up a manufacturing facility in Kenya, its first in Africa, to produce messenger mRNA vaccines.

The company said it expects to invest about $500million in the Kenyan facility and supply as many as 500 million doses to the continent each year.

Moderna's COVID vaccine brought in $17.7 billion in sales in 2021 and has been cleared for use in over 70 countries.




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