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Global eradication of COVID-19 'technically feasible'

Tuesday August 10th 2021

The global eradication of COVID-19 is “technically” feasible, experts say today.

To estimate if COVID-19 eradication, which is defined as “the permanent reduction to zero of the worldwide incidence of infection caused by a specific agent as a result of deliberate efforts”, could happen, New Zealand researchers compared it with smallpox and polio and used technical, sociopolitical, and economic factors that are likely to help achieve this goal.

Smallpox was declared eradicated in 1980 and two out of the three serotypes of poliovirus have also been eradicated globally.

The team used a three-point scoring system for each of 17 variables, including: the availability of a safe and effective vaccine; lifelong immunity; impact of public health measures; effective government management of infection control messaging; political and public concern about the economic and social impacts of the infection; and public acceptance of infection control measures.

The average (total) scores in the analysis added up to 2.7 (43/48) for smallpox, 1.6 (28/51) for COVID-19, and 1.5 (26/51) for polio.

In BMJ Global Health, the research team, led by the University of Otago Wellington, write: “While our analysis is a preliminary effort, with various subjective components, it does seem to put COVID-19 eradicability into the realms of being possible, especially in terms of technical feasibility.”

While they admit that compared to smallpox and polio, the technical challenges of COVID-19 eradication include poor vaccine acceptance and the emergence of more highly transmissible variants that may evade immunity, they say there are limits to viral evolution, so the virus could eventually reach peak fitness, and new vaccines can be formulated.

“Other challenges would be the high upfront costs (for vaccination and upgrading health systems) and achieving the necessary international cooperation in the face of ‘vaccine nationalism’ and government-mediated ‘antiscience aggression’,” they say.

The global effort has generated “unprecedented global interest in disease control and massive investment in vaccination against the pandemic” and COVID-19 also benefits from the added impact of public health measures, such as border controls, social distancing, contact tracing and mask wearing.

The authors say their study is preliminary and call for more in-depth work.

Wilson N, Mansoor OD, Boyd MJ et al. We should not dismiss the possibility of eradicating COVID-19: comparisons with smallpox and polio. BMJ Global Health 10 August 2021

[abstract]

Tags: Australia | Flu & Viruses | World Health

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