Popper on Corona-Herbst: “Until then, protection against serious illness will drop dramatically”

profile: The number of new infections is in sharp decline. Have we finally survived the worst stages of the pandemic?
popper: How do you define “worst”? In intensive care units, the risk of short-term overload has long since passed. If you ask the staff of the regular wards, someone will say: it has never been as stressful as in the last few weeks and months.

profile: I’ve been thinking about new lockdowns.
popper: From the current point of view, such extreme situations do not threaten. In the autumn, however, there may be a large number of infections again and a greater burden on hospitals. We should just prepare for different scenarios.

profile: Is the current infection curve also declining because significantly fewer tests are done?
popper: No, the descent is not proven, even if the test changes change the numbers. But when a car hits the brakes, it stops even if the speedometer has failed. We have already seen strong downward momentum in March when further testing was carried out. Incidentally, even before that, only a small percentage of the population tested frequently.

“Our forecasts did not hold up”

profile: On March 5, the measures were largely abolished. Now the number of infections is decreasing considerably. Why all the excitement about the alleged “Freedom Day”, which then culminated in the reintroduction of the obligation of the mask?
popper: Our prediction did not hold out. We set the peak of the infection curve a few days early and too low. The reason for the lack of clarity was the high number of reinfections with the new omicron BA.2 sub-variant and the loosening not included in the model. But it was clear that the new strategy would soon lead to saturation and the numbers would plummet.

profile: You mean the new contamination strategy.
popper: If you want to call it that. As I see it, if we loosen the measures when the numbers are high, we accept that the number of infections will not decrease so quickly. The strategy was different in previous waves. This is legitimate if the underlying assessments and consequences of this new strategy are explained. The result is clear: of the roughly four million infections detected to date, more than two thirds occurred in 2022 alone. This is not only due to politics, the virus has also changed.

profile: How high is the number of unreported cases among the infected?
popper: Which changes a bit over time. Just over six million have actually been infected, but it’s actually of little relevance. It’s about immunization against infections and diseases, and it’s more complicated. There are hardly any people left who have not been vaccinated or infected.

profile: From Omicron we have entered a completely new phase of the pandemic. Neither politicians nor pundits have really explained this paradigm shift.
popper: In January and February, I suggested we better communicate changes in dealing with the virus so that people could carry it with them. Then we could have dealt with the consequences sooner and more soberly. We have long argued that at the height of the omicron wave there is a risk of a shortage of hospital staff if many of them are in quarantine.

profile: Does this mean that the abolition of compulsory isolation for key personnel should have been discussed?
popper: Yes, with all the pros and cons, from people who can classify it medically. But already in January or February – and not just when the effect is already occurring.

profile: A part of the population does not yet seem ready to completely strip off their protective armor. The mayor of Vienna scored until the end with too strict rules such as 2G at the Schanigarten (access only for vaccinated and recovered).
popper: If you see it this way. Let’s put it this way: in any case, there are measures with a clear effect on the infection process and measures that are aimed at inducing people to behave, for example, get vaccinated.

profile: Such negative incentives for vaccination are apparently ineffective. There are hardly any vaccinations left. It is also debatable whether most of those who have been vaccinated three times will receive a fourth stitch by the fall.
popper: We looked at it: the rate of immunity against infections, but also protection against serious diseases, drops very drastically until the fall without boosters or further infections – that’s why vaccination is important. This also has to do with the current characteristics of the virus.

profile: So is compulsory vaccination necessary from the first to the fourth bite?
popper: Politics and science should come up with scenarios for the fall before the summer. Politicians can base their strategies for regulations and recommendations on this. Citizens can refer to it.

profile: Will there also be a scenario of treating Corona like the flu?
popper: Oh my God, the confrontation with the flu: very thin ice. But if medicine and politics say in a scenario that Covid is no longer a serious and reportable disease, then obviously it no longer makes sense to extensively test and isolate people. So other screening methods are needed to monitor the disease. And doctors must decide whether additional hygiene measures are needed when potentially infected people return to work without symptoms. In another scenario involving more complex mutations, a broader testing regime might make sense. Communication and strategy consistency are important.

“I’ll have a fourth vaccination in the fall”

profile: Will there also be scenarios that will help decide the fourth trick?
popper: In any case, from an epidemiological point of view, it makes sense to freshen up. Medicine has to make the specific recommendations. Protection against infections has rapidly declined with the current variant. It is all the more important to explain during the summer how well vaccination continues to protect against a severe course, but also from Long Covid. I will be vaccinated a fourth time in the fall if I don’t get infected by then.

profile: Wouldn’t it make sense to measure the level of antibodies and make the fourth vaccination depend on it?
popper: My expert understanding is that the immune system is much more complex. Making vaccination dependent on an antibody test would be like evaluating the general condition of a car based on the condition of the tires.

“Panic has never been a tried and tested remedy”

profile: By now everyone knows someone who has had a mild history. How loose is the management of Covid and the fixation on it?
popper: The imbalance in the perception of Covid and other diseases has always been absurd and unhealthy. Panic has never been an effective remedy.

profile: Experts also contribute to this fixation, who now feel the autumn wave again, instead of telling people that it’s okay to live at their best, get busy, shake hands, dance exuberantly in crowded nightclubs.
popper: I was never one to say we will all die. In the opening euphoria in early summer 2021, I said in an interview that I was the “positive booty”. If the situation is good, you can relax a lot. Already with the first wave in the spring of 2020 I was early to loosen up. On the other hand, now I appeal: let’s prepare for autumn with different scenarios, because one of these will happen. Without panic, but also without neglect.

profile: What remains of the pandemic if it eventually ends?
popper: Maybe wear a mask on public transport? We hope for better management of health data and the social debate on health issues. And I fear the polarization of society, which has long been at least as challenging as the pandemic itself.

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