The well-known epidemiologist told CNBC that the pandemic won’t be over soon — given that only a small percentage of the world’s population has been vaccinated against Covid-19.
Dr Larry Brilliant, an epidemiologist who was part of the WHO team that helped eradicate smallpox, said the delta variant is “probably the most contagious virus ever”.
In recent months, the United States, India and China, as well as other countries in Europe, Africa and Asia, have been grappling with the highly contagious delta type of virus.
The World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a global pandemic last March – after the disease, which first emerged in China in late 2019, has spread around the world.
The good news is that vaccines — particularly those using messenger RNA technology and those produced by Johnson & Johnson — withstand the delta variant, Brilliant told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” on Friday.
However, only 15% of the world’s population has been vaccinated, and more than 100 countries have vaccinated less than 5% of their population, Brilliant noted.
“I think we are closer to the beginning than we are now [of the pandemic]It’s not because the variable we’re looking at now is going to last for so long, said Brilliant, founder and CEO of Pandefense Advisory.
“Unless we vaccinate everyone in more than 200 countries, there will still be new variants,” he said, predicting that the coronavirus will eventually become “a virus forever” like the flu.
The possibility of a “premium alternative”
Brilliant said his models on the Covid outbreaks in San Francisco and New York predict an “inverted V-shaped epidemiological curve.” He explained that this means that the infection is increasing very quickly, but it will also decrease rapidly.
If the prediction turns out to be correct, Brilliant explained, then the delta variable is spreading so fast that it “essentially runs out of candidate elements”.
There appears to be a similar pattern in the UK and India, where the delta-variable spread has ebbed from recent highs.
Daily reported cases in the UK have fallen – on a seven-day moving average basis – from a peak of around 47,700 on July 21 to around 26,000 on Thursday, according to statistics compiled by the online database Our World in Data.
The data showed that in India, the seven-day moving average of daily reported cases has remained below 50,000 since late June – well below the peak of more than 390,000 per day in May.
“It could mean that this is a six-month phenomenon in a country, not a two-year phenomenon. But I warn people that this is a delta variant and we don’t run out of Greek letters, so there may be more to come,” he said.
The epidemiologist said there is little chance of a “super variant” emerging and that vaccines do not work against it. He added that although these things are difficult to predict, it is a non-zero probability, which means that it cannot be ruled out.
“It’s a catastrophic event should it happen, and we have to do everything we can to prevent it,” Brilliant said. “And that means everyone gets vaccinated – not just in your area, not just in your family, not just in your country but all over the world.”
covid vaccine boosters
Some countries with relatively high vaccination rates such as the United States and Israel are planning booster doses for their populations. Others, like Haiti, only recently got their first batch of vaccine doses.
The World Health Organization has called on rich countries to refrain from promoting the Covid vaccine to give low-income countries a chance to vaccinate their people.
But in addition to boosting vaccination in countries with a low vaccination rate, Brilliant said one group of people needs a booster “immediately” – those 65 years of age and older, who were fully vaccinated more than six months ago but who have twice immune system.
“This is the category of people that we’ve seen create multiple mutations when the virus is transmitted to their bodies,” the epidemiologist said.
“So I would say that these people should get a third dose, a booster dose right away — just as quickly as moving the vaccines to those countries that haven’t had much opportunity to buy them or have access to them. I consider those two things equal.”
CNBC’s Rich Mendes contributed to this report.