Are We There Yet?: The Brilliant Dr Brilliant


Many of us are deeply tired of the Covid pandemic. We can’t wait for it to be over. As Nietzsche pointed out however, desire is a big enemy of truth. We must not give in to it. Hoping doesn’t make it so.

We are in the midst of record Covid-19 numbers in Canada, the United States and Europe so why would we ask if the pandemic is drawing to a close?  Well, mainly of course, because we want that so much. But there is a little bit more to the issue than that. There is some modest room for modest optimism.

Some recent studies point to the new variant, Omicron, which started out in Africa and from England, as being somewhat less severe or virulent. South Africa already claims that it has passed the peak of its infections without a major surge of hospitalizations.  Wonderful news right?  Yes, but….

In the world of Covid things are never as simple as they might appear to be. This is one of those times. Dr. Fauci has already said, he hopes that the US will follow a similar pattern to South Africa and England. That pattern is one of dramatic surge, rapid fall-off, and fewer serious cases of Covid-19.

The epidemiologist Dr. Larry Brilliant is, of course, a brilliant commentator on Covid-19. But he always gives us the truth, even when we don’t like it. He helped the WHO to eradicate smallpox. Christiane Amanpour asked Dr. Brilliant if he was seeing the end of the tunnel?  The brilliant Dr. Brilliant pointed out that,

“South Africa is not a case study that represents the same issues for the United States or most of Africa for that matter, with a 25% vaccination coverage but almost everyone who has had a prior infection and with less than 6% of the population who are over 60. It doesn’t have the same demographics that we have here, so I think we need to look at the UK, Germany, and unfortunately we will also have a chance to look at the East Coast very quickly…We really are at a crossroads. It is possible that we could go down the left side or the right side of the crossroad and in fact end up with Omicron becoming a virus like a cold.”

However, there is another path that probably is equally likely and that is that while Omicron might infect 5, 6, or 7 billion of us. When it did that, that would mean those many people are harbouring hundreds of millions, or billions of viruses all replicating 3 or 4% of the time having a mutation and those mutations leading to a new variant. Unfortunately because as Dr. Ayoade Alakija of the WHO said, less than 8% of the people in low income countries have any protection. Then indeed we might end up with super variants that come back to us or to the rest of the world.

Dr.  Alakija the key thing about Omicron is that we don’t know if it will be a good precedent for us or not. There are too many variables and we will have to wait for facts on the ground to know.  So is it mild? “Perhaps”, she said, “until it chooses not to be.” We cannot say that our peak will follow as quickly as it did in South Africa. “In South Africa it is summer and people have gone to their summer homes, offices have been closed while people go on holidays, they also put in place some health measures very quickly. As she said “I do not share the optimism of the world that Omicron is mild. People are tired and sick and tired of Covid and they want it to be over but Covid is clearly not sick and tired of us.”

Some like Bill Gates is “hopeful” that Covid-19 will become endemic in most places and that “in a couple of years, my hope is that the only time you will really have to think about the virus is when you get your joint Covid and flu vaccine every fall.” Dr. Brilliant says that is also what he hopes for and says it is an “entirely plausible scenario” but no one can say it is very likely yet. The problem is that modern science has never seen a virus that spreads as rapidly as Covid. Until we know if the next variant is able to over infect people who had Omicron we will not which of these 2 paths is more likely. So we can hope, but hopes don’t pay for the groceries.

Dr. Brilliant also said he can’t say the impact on people will be less than the Delta. We will still see major disruptions in travel, in schools, and “we need to be more respectful. We’ve been wrong every single time with this virus. We don’t yet know which of these two scenarios is more likely.”

Darn–that was not quite what I wanted to hear.

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