In the face of the omicron wave, more than 30 scientists in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) urge a Europe-wide approach to curb the spread of the new variant.
Recently, the impression has arisen in many cases that this is a “mild” variant, the containment of which no longer makes sense. In this context, IHS researcher Thomas Czypionka, who was involved in the appeal, warns against an “inappropriate and even dangerous” fatalism.
The paper, published Thursday, brings together researchers from a wide range of scientific fields. From Austria, Czypionka, who works at the Institute for Advanced Studies (IHS) in Vienna, is joined by political scientist Barbara Prainsack of the University of Vienna. During the pandemic, both researchers had repeatedly argued that Covid 19 case numbers should be kept as low as possible and that cross-border coordination was needed.
Now, at the latest, it is important to take a determined and coordinated European approach to counteracting the progressive massive increase in the number of cases in Europe. “It is time to finally take the European and also the global dimension of this pandemic seriously also in policy making. The problem cannot be solved at the national level,” Prainsack said in an IHS release. “After two years of the pandemic, the dangers of delayed, ineffective and uncoordinated containment measures should be well known,” the appeal says.
Measures “still effective”
Most recently, however, a mindset has taken root in many quarters that attempts to stop the spread of the much more contagious SARS-CoV-2 variant as much as possible make little sense because so-and-so will infect nearly everyone with Omicron. “This fatalism is misplaced and even dangerous, according to our findings,” Czypionka said. “Proven evidence-based measures are still effective in reducing infections and thus not overburdening critical infrastructure and health care.”
The researchers specifically point to three areas for action in the paper: The continuing critical link between high infection rates and impending high burdens on the health care system, special protection for children who remain largely unvaccinated across Europe, and stalling the surge to allow time to advance third-strain vaccination, which, according to recent studies, primarily protects against severe illness.
Keeping case numbers as low as possible would, if nothing else, protect critical infrastructure, which is at risk of coming under pressure from particularly large numbers of people quarantined at the same time. In addition, the scientists point out that hospital capacity for children is limited. Capacity limits could be reached quickly if an uncontrolled wave of infections sweeps through Europe. “Therefore, it is important to reduce infections and better monitor pediatric capacity,” said Emil Iftekhar of the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization in Göttingen, Germany. Schools and kindergartens should be kept open as much as possible with safety nets that are as tight as possible. Renewed closures should be seen as a last resort.
Booster vaccination increases protection
Like many other experts, the group points to the importance of booster vaccinations, for example, to keep the proportion of severe disease courses among the many Omicron infections low. “Immunization with only two doses provides little protection against infection, but protection increases markedly with the third dose,” the researchers write. It is thus also important to prevent or delay the spread of the wave to older age groups at risk for severe courses, in order to further increase booster rates there and in the population as a whole.
Politicians and the authorities must endeavor to maintain or regain the trust of the population in times of misinformation and the like. Ultimately, even under omicron conditions, the implementation of known effective measures such as home offices, wearing masks and restrictions on indoor gatherings will have a rapid effect. This takes pressure off the situation and reduces the likelihood of more stringent measures such as closures, curfews or lockdowns, the researchers said.
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