The US thinks it will be ‘immune’ to what is happening in Europe. That’s wishful thinking
It’s deja vu, yet again. The pandemic first hit Europe in March 2020, and Americans were in denial, thinking it wouldn’t happen here. Then, later in the year, the Alpha variant wave took hold in the United Kingdom and the United States was unprepared. This recurred with Delta in the summer of 2021. Now, in the fall of 2021, Europe is the outlier continent on the rise with Covid, with approximately 350 cases per 100,000 people and many countries are soaring to new records. This not only involves eastern and central Europe, where there are some countries with low vaccination rates (such as Georgia, only 24% fully vaccinated) and caseloads as high as 160/100,000 (Slovenia), but also western Europe, such as Austria, Belgium, Ireland and several others. Indeed, in Germany, leading virologist Christian Drosten recently warned their death toll could be doubled if more aggressive mitigation and vaccination strategies were not quickly adopted.
Why is this happening again in Europe after the Delta wave passed through and high rates of vaccination were achieved? There are a few important reasons. First, there are a large proportion of unvaccinated individuals in each country, and only countries such as Spain at 80% and Portugal at 88% that fully vaccinated their total populations have set a high bar and have thus far withstood the continental trend of rise in cases. Noteworthy is Belgium with 74% fully vaccinated and one of the hardest-hit countries in the world, now at 79/100,000, currently 10th highest caseload globally. That alone tells us 74% isn’t enough, and that prior Covid (without vaccination, what some refer to as “natural immunity”) is unreliable for representing a solid immunity wall against the Delta variant. In fact, it has been projected for Delta that any country needs to achieve 90-95% of its total population fully vaccinated (or with recent Covid) in order to have population-level immunity that covers, providing relative protection, for the others.
Eric Topol is the founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, professor of molecular medicine, and executive vice-president of Scripps Research