Dan O'Heirity

Today is a Landmark Day for Covid-19 Cases and Fatalities

Today is something of a landmark day in the history of the CCP virus as the number of confirmed cases has risen above 10,000,000 and the number of confirmed deaths has risen above 500,000. To be more precise, my preferred data source – which is updated in real time for new daily cases and deaths with the data being reset at GMT+0 – reports that there have been 10,082,618 confirmed cases of the CCP virus and 501,309 confirmed deaths from the CCP virus. Daily figures for new cases and new deaths remain extremely high. Two days ago there were 194,190 new daily cases and 4,893 new deaths. The United States, Brazil and India accounted for 112,974 of the new cases and 2,099 of the new deaths. Yesterday saw 176,568 new cases and 4,457 new deaths. The United States, Brazil and India accounted for 99,599 of the new cases and 1,920 of the new deaths. Australia, the country where I live, has a minor problem with CCP virus cluster in Melbourne which has led to 39 new cases two days ago and to 48 new cases yesterday. However, overall Australia’s figures remain incredibly low with only 7,686 confirmed CCP virus cases and 104 deaths.

Covid-19 is Slightly More Worrying Than Seasonal Flu

Way back in March 2020, President Trump was telling the American public that the CCP virus was not as dangerous as seasonal flu. Trump was very clearly wrong in this respect because, for example, the CCP virus is at least twice as contagious as seasonal flu and has a far higher death rate of around 1% of those infected as compared with seasonal flu which has a death rate of around 0.1%. There is no shortage of facts to back up these claims. For example, a journal article from 2009 has looked at seasonal flu data from the 1976-1977 flu season through to the 2002-2003 season. The article estimates that the average number of annual deaths in America from seasonal flu to be between 22,454 deaths / 8.6 deaths per 100,000 and 25,470 deaths / 9.9 deaths per 100,000. Going into a little more detail, the mortality estimates for the flu seasons from 1976–1977 to 2002–2003 were estimated to be around 25,000 deaths. The annual average for the 1990–1991 through to 1998–1999 seasons was 32,928. The average annual estimate for the 1993–1994 through the 2002–2003 seasons was 36,171 deaths. As of today, June 28th, 2020 there have been 128,152 deaths in the United States from the CCP virus.

There are also figures for the number of global deaths from seasonal influenza. A journal article from 2018 has used multiple data sources from 1999–2015 and estimated that somewhere between 291,243 and 645,832 influenza-associated respiratory deaths (4·0–8·8 per 100,000 individuals) occur annually. These figures are higher than previously published studies which estimated 148,000–249,000 annual influenza-associated respiratory deaths, and the WHO-attributed estimate of 250,000–500,000 respiratory and circulatory deaths (3·8–7·7 per 100 000 individuals). As noted above, there have been 501,309 confirmed deaths from the CCP virus over a period of roughly six months. Thus whilst the number of CCP virus deaths has not reached the highest estimate of influenza associated deaths in this study, the number of new daily CCP virus cases means that this number will inevitably be reached. If the number of new CCP virus deaths continues to increase by around 5,000 new deaths per day then the figure will be reached in about 15 days.

How Close Are We to Having a Vaccine for Covid-19?

We have a lot of information about the effectiveness of seasonal flu vaccines. For example, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the Unites States, estimates that the flu vaccine is between 40% and 60% effective across the general population in reducing the risk of catching the flu. However, the effectiveness figure per se does not tell the whole story. The CDC advises that,

In general, current flu vaccines tend to work better against influenza B and influenza A(H1N1) viruses and offer lower protection against influenza A(H3N2) viruses.

There are other factors that impact on the effectiveness of the flu vaccine. First, the match between the flu viruses that are circulating and the vaccine that is being used. In this respect the CDC says that if the match is not a good one then there may be no benefit from the flu vaccine. Secondly, characteristics of individuals such as age and state of health can impact on the effectiveness of the vaccine. For example, vaccines for influenza A(H3N2) flu viruses may not be as effective in adults over 65 years of age. However, the CDC still advises that there are benefits for people over 65 getting vaccinated against the flu. Vaccination may, for example, protect the elderly against more serious flu outcomes such as hospitalization and death.

There is currently no vaccine for the CCP virus. However, according to one story, significant work is underway to try to produce a vaccine with over 160 vaccines for the virus currently being studied. The source cited for the figure of 160 vaccines currently reports that there are 257 treatments and 172 vaccines in development. The difference between the two is that treatments provide tools to help patients while a vaccine is developed. Vaccines based on anti body development represent the largest category of vaccines under trial. Antibodies attach themselves to intruders in the body and target them for destruction. Antiviral treatments also represent a significant category in the development of vaccines. These work by stopping viruses from making more of themselves through blocking one or more steps in the process. Optimists have claimed that a vaccine might be ready by the end of 2020 whilst others are more sceptical saying that only a very small number of these 160 vaccines are being tested on human subjects.

It would seem fair to say that any vaccine developed for the CCP virus will likely vary in its effectiveness in the same way that the flu virus varies. According to one report, there are at least two different strains of the CCP virus which might mean that any vaccine would be more or less effective depending on the strain that was dominant at any one point in time. Another report acknowledges the research suggesting that there are 2 dominant strains of the virus whilst also citing other research suggesting that there are many more strains of the CCP virus. One group of researchers has suggested that there are 8 strains of the virus whilst another group of researchers has claimed that there are 13 mutations of the virus. The other factor that will impact on the effectiveness of any vaccine will be the characteristics of individuals such as age and state of health. Overall, whilst a vaccine may well be developed for the CCP virus, it is unlikely to be a “cure all” meaning that the CCP virus may well follow the pattern of seasonal flu outbreaks.

First Published June 28th, 2020

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