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Swiss epidemiologist warns against US Covid vaccination strategy as only option

Swiss epidemiologist Antoine Flahault warned of the risks of the strategy focused on vaccination with current vaccines alone as a solution. He cited the example of the United States.

Published: April 12, 2021, 9:46 am

    Antoine Flahault, director of the l’Institut de santé globale in Geneva, told French weekly, Journal du dimanche (JDD) that France could find itself in a difficult situation in June because there were factors that could limit the effectiveness of the vaccination campaign.

    “It strikes me as a risky bet. And risky if new variants emerge and jeopardize the effectiveness of vaccines; if the delivery is not at the desired pace, if the case of AstraZeneca arose with other vaccines and called into question the support of the population,” said Flahault.

    According to the expert, European countries where the evolution of the pandemic is less serious, such as the United Kingdom, Portugal, Denmark, Norway, Finland or Germany, were “based on two pillars: vaccination, but also minimal circulation of the virus”. These include the closure of schools.

    “It was this measure that allowed Portugal, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Denmark to regain control. Stopping adult activities is important, but another great breeding ground is that of schools […]. Their closure strongly slows down social interactions,” noted the epidemiologist.

    However, the situation remains “very fragile”, as we see in Germany or the United Kingdom, and three weeks of vacation in April will probably not be enough to return below the threshold of 5000 daily cases, he argued.

    “If the contaminations come back down in France, it will be necessary to maintain the effort beyond the spring break. But we will not be able to make Emmanuel Macron or his government accountable, since they have not set a target to be reached for health indicators, except for vaccination!” he continued.

    According to Flahault, France risks finding itself in a difficult situation if it follows the example of countries that have bet on the only vaccine to protect their populations.

    The expert cites the United States as an example, which had observed a continuous decline in cases until the arrival of variants of the Coronavirus. However, the American vaccination coverage is “much higher than ours (33 percent against 14 percent)”.

    He added: “The current situation in the United States will be that of France in June if it does not meet the clear objective of reducing the circulation of the virus […]. The curves for the United States today could be those for France in mid-May, with the equivalent of 15 000 cases per day, a plateau too high.” Mortality, which was steadily declining, is no longer decreasing in the United States.

    In France, the death rate is 145 per 100 000 inhabitants, against 169 in the US, said Flahault. But this rate is “ten to forty times lower” in countries which have aimed for the suppression of the virus: “in Japan, there are 7 deaths per 100 000 inhabitants, 3 in Korea, 13 and 15 in Finland and Norway”.

    As for the countries which have chosen “zero Covid”, such as certain countries in Asia and Oceania, they show exceptional performance: 0,34 deaths per 100 000 inhabitants in New Zealand, 0,54 in China, 0,04 in Taiwan. “Ditto in Thailand, Vietnam, or the Canadian provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick,” noted the expert.

    Thus, the champion countries in the fight against “the pandemic do not tolerate the circulation of the virus on their territory. And the economy follows health,” concluded the epidemiologist, calling for barrier measures to be retained as long as everyone is not protected by vaccination.

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