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Hermelinda Vanaclocha: “China fears that the virus will be given a chance to mutate”

The visible face of the administration’s pandemic experts, Hermelinda Vanaclocha, explains why measures need to be taken in the face of escalating cases in China and the uncertainties that, once again, arise as the coronavirus began to be just another virus with living together

What’s happening in China?

We do not know. According to official information, there are few cases but from what comes from the media it seems that there are many. They have implemented a very tough strategy against covid-19, with measures so draconian that people have not been in contact with the virus, so they have no immunity. Add to that that they don’t have vaccine coverage like the rest of the countries and that the vaccine they used there is less effective… it’s a perfect storm. They haven’t really made any transitions.

Why is it a threat that this is happening now in China?

From the little we know about this virus is that the more it circulates and the more it infects, the more likely it is to mutate and that is where the danger lies. Don’t worry that China has many cases but that there is a change in the coronavirus that we can’t deal with quickly. It could be a mutation that produces a mild or more severe disease than exists now, or that the vaccine is not so effective against it… This would be the worst of situations. We do not know. The problem is giving the virus a chance.

Do you know which variant is now circulating in China?

Not in China, Spain and Europe we know that they are all subvariants of omicron but this does not translate into greater disease severity. But we know nothing about China.

Is there a real danger of going back to 3 years ago?

If the coronavirus does not change or ends up mutating and is a variant like the ones that exist now and generates a mild disease, there is no such danger. I see it difficult unless a very different variant has emerged. In any case it would always be different because in recent years we have learned and also the pharmaceutical industry that produces vaccines. If a new variant came out, it would be faster to create a new one. This is what I expect.

How protected are we here after three years of living with the coronavirus?

We have some protection. However much a virus changes, it doesn’t change at all. It’s the same virus we’ve been in contact with over the years and almost everyone has been infected even if they didn’t know it. It’s like the flu, even if it changes, you still have immunity to one component of the virus.

This new crisis comes at a good time.

We are very good. The evolution of covid cases is very stable both in people over 60 and in the rest according to surveillance data from the SiVIRA network for respiratory infections. We are stable, we have increased cases but we are in the middle of autumn-winter and we are maintaining that stability.

Minister Darias has already announced measures at airports for travelers from China.

Border measures are not enough, but they help buy time, even if they are disruptive. In case the virus mutates, we need time to make vaccines. It seems consistent to apply them because if cases get here, they can be sequenced and know what variant they have.

Would you consider it appropriate to take further action?

It doesn’t hurt that we are prepared, that we are sure that we have enough protection, we check that everything is up to date and we think about how to change the control strategy we have. Of course, before acting, people who have to get vaccinated and remember that it’s not over. People are already happy, they have lost their fear of covid and vaccination is not working as it should. It makes no sense that we don’t take advantage of it by having a vaccine as effective as the one we have.

Do you recommend the fourth dose for those under 60?

Not at the youngest, but after 50 yes. If six months have passed since the third dose and you have not exceeded it in this time, you should take it. It would be stupid not to use vaccines that have been proven to be good and avoid a disease when it is preventable. You simply have to compare what we had in January 2021, when there were 100 deaths every day, with now, when we have 20 deaths a week. This summer it was estimated that 1.5 million Valencians had passed it and there was no overload in the system and that was all because of the vaccine and that hybrid immunity that we achieved.

Will we go back to masks in a general way?

I think we can’t tell now. Right now it wouldn’t make sense with the stable situation we have and we also have to be careful: we can’t put measures that people don’t understand because it’s counterproductive.

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