Could COVID-19 one day go the way of smallpox and polio?
New research suggests it might be possible to beat the coronavirus with high vaccination rates and rapid responses to immunity-evading variants, the study authors said.
"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," according to Michael Baker, professor in the department of public health at the University of Otago, Wellington, in New Zealand, and colleagues.
To assess the feasibility of eliminating COVID-19, the researchers used 17 factors to compare it with two other vaccine-preventable viral diseases -- smallpox and polio.
Smallpox was declared eradicated in 1980 and two out of the three serotypes of poliovirus have been eradicated worldwide.
The factors used for analysis included: vaccine availability; lifelong immunity; impact of public health measures; effective infection control messaging; political and public concern about the economic and social impacts of the diseases; and public acceptance of infection control measures.
The investigators used a three-point scoring system for each of the 17 factors and concluded that the feasibility of eradication was higher for COVID-19 than for polio, but lower than for smallpox.
The average scores in the analysis were 2.7 (43/48) for smallpox, 1.6 (28/51) for COVID-19, and 1.5 (26/51) for polio, according to the study published online Aug. 9 in the journal BMJ Global Health.
Compared to smallpox and polio, the challenges of eradicating COVID-19 include low vaccine acceptance and the emergence of more highly transmissible variants that might evade immunity, the authors noted.
"Nevertheless, there are of course limits to viral evolution, so we can expect the virus to eventually reach peak fitness, and new vaccines can be formulated," Baker and colleagues suggested in a journal news release.
"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,'" the team noted.
But they added that there is worldwide will to combat COVID-19, because the staggering health, social and economic impacts of the virus have triggered "unprecedented global interest in disease control and massive investment in vaccination against the pandemic."
This is preliminary research and more extensive in-depth investigation is needed, and the World Health Organization would need to formally review the feasibility and desirability of trying to eradicate COVID-19, the researchers explained.
The World Health Organization has more on COVID-19.
SOURCE: BMJ Global Health, news release, Aug. 9, 2021