Few want to hear about the covid. There is a widespread desire to turn the page on the largest global health crisis in the last hundred years. Few want to remember the pain, fear and suffering that it brought with it and, also, the confinements, the masks and, of course, the vaccines. But the covid continues to circulate and will continue to do so, mutating as viruses do, and no matter how tired and fed up the population is, it will be necessary to continue monitoring its evolution, the appearance of new variants and, yes, also vaccinating. But it will not be to the entire population nor will it be several times a year.
Public health and vaccinology experts debated for two days in Madrid last week about the covid and its possible conversion into a seasonal virus (it is not yet), which leads to modifying the vaccination strategy. They did so at the National Covid Summit 2023, organized by the Spanish Association of Vaccination (AEV), the Spanish Society of Preventive Medicine, Public Health and Health Management (Sempspgs) and the National Association of Nursing and Vaccines (Anenvac).
An annual vaccine in the fall, like the flu shot
And there they made it clear that, today, the scientific proposal is to protect “only” the vulnerable population (elderly, patients with specific and immunosuppressed pathologies, pregnant women and health professionals, among others) with a vaccine (in principle they bet on a dose ) that would be administered in autumn (the arrival of the cold and the social activity displaced to closed spaces are the breeding ground for these viruses) together with that of the flu, as indicated to this newspaper by Amós García, head of the epidemiology service of the General Directorate of Public Health in the Canary Islands and member of the Permanent Group for Europe of the WHO. Precisely the WHO has also ruled in this sense, given the high level of immunization achieved in the population.
The WHO also asks to focus efforts only on risk groups due to the high level of immunization
For ordinary mortals, these decisions seem easy, but the assembled experts (most of the community public health managers, among others) made it clear that nothing in the fight against viruses is. Because, even understanding that covid is a seasonal virus, what would happen if we vaccinate the target population in the fall of 2023 and a variant appears in the spring of 2024? wondered Pierluigi Lopalco, professor of Hygiene and Preventive Medicine at the University from Salento (Italy). “We don’t have a crystal ball,” he pointed out.
Because one of the questions he plans is whether to administer the current vaccines or wait “a few more months” and update them as much as possible (the virus is constantly mutating). Jorge del Diego Salas, general director of Public Health of Andalusia, believes that it would not be convenient to delay the decision beyond June, so that in September the pharmaceutical companies can start the distribution process and arrive in autumn with everything ready. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) at its meeting on February 15 agreed to continue monitoring the subvariants and left the decision on the composition of the vaccine to be administered for later.
Experts bet on including the covid vaccine in the vaccination calendar
One of the problems, however, that most worries public health experts and vaccinologists has to do with the acceptance by the vulnerable population of the idea of getting vaccinated again. And not once, but every year (in fact, they talk about including it in the not too distant future in the vaccination calendar). Because, they agreed, there is a sickness of everything that has to do with this virus.
For now, they ask to “stop talking about the first dose, second dose, first booster, second booster”, which generates rejection and “seems like a melodramatic serial”, and they bet on calling it the annual covid vaccine, as is said of flu vaccine, Amos Garcia said.
The population is tired of the covid, so it is necessary to change the strategy and send personalized messages
And after this name change, carry out specific awareness campaigns for the segment of the population to which the drug is administered, “even sending them personalized messages through the channels that are necessary,” said Elena Andradas, general director of Public Health in Madrid. And facilitate their access, said Joan Puig, a scientist from the Vaccine Research Area of FISABIO-Public Health, in Valencia.
“The message has to be clear, homogeneous, providing clear and precise information about what it means to be vaccinated for the target population, with messages based on scientific evidence,” insisted Amós García and Elena Andradas. And explain that saying that the covid is endemic (that it is repeated in time and in one place) does not mean that it is milder at all. “Endemic, for example, is malaria and it is very lethal,” they recalled.