"That the virus remains among us does not mean that we have to vaccinate every year"

His name and face are already known in Spain since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. But the virologist Margarita del Val has spent half her life dedicated to research in vaccines. He believes that those developed against the covid They are solid even though months have passed since their administration.

With a incidence close to 500 cases, hospitalizations on the rise and Christmas just around the corner, what is your prognosis of the situation?

It is clear that in Christmas we are not going to restrict our movements any more than last year and probably not even like last year. Therefore, it is to be expected that the cases will continue to rise. The fact that infections are rising a lot now scares and predicts that serious cases will also rise rapidly but we do not know how much. As always, we are in uncertain moments with the pandemic.

Does the arrival of the omicron variant?

Once it's been seen out of South AfricaIt seems that it is progressing faster compared to the delta variant, which means that it would be more contagious. If it is more contagious, we must take stricter measures, or one or two more measures each of us. But the way to protect yourself will be the same: vaccine, masks and ventilation, the three great pillars. And then, of course, distance, hygiene, small bubbles, teleworking ... There are a lot of measures we can take.

This variant is more contagious, but appears milder.

We do not have any clear indication, we will have to see it here. In South Africa they don't have people as old as we have in European countries. It will be necessary to see how it impacts them. And as to whether you can escape vaccines or not, there is a lot of information circulating and all partial. We need the information we don't have yet, and it is how it impacts in severe cases, whether or not you are vaccinated. It gives me the impression that we are climbing a lot and we have to stop as soon as possible because each family reunion, each celebration may well be the seed of a new snowball.

Are you concerned that there is still a significant volume of people over 60 years of age to receive the third dose and that they no longer have immunity?

It is that immunity has not been lost. The third doses have been established by people in whom the vaccine does not take well. In special groups, with immune problems, it is known that there is a percentage in which the vaccine does not turn on. And if a third dose is given, that percentage goes down a bit. Vaccines are working very well. They are very solid, they are not infallible, but they are very solid even as the months go by.

Is it necessary to vaccinate children to end the pandemic?

From the beginning we know that vaccines are not sterilizing. Vaccines protect something from infection and that is a good thing. And they are also likely to protect some from contagion, but partially. We do not know if having a recent dose will limit how contagious those vaccinated are. In other words, if children are vaccinated, it is to protect them and not to protect the 40-year-old who has not wanted to be vaccinated. Children cannot be used as a shield to protect us others. The rest of us are the ones who have to get vaccinated.

Are they then vaccinated to protect them from a disease that in very few cases is serious in children?

That's it. But clearly the benefit for them is much less and it goes up with age. Children between the ages of 2 and 11 are the ones who suffer the least from the disease and part of that group is the one we are vaccinating now. Newborns and one-year-olds have a disease of the same order as 12 or 13-year-olds. From there, gravity goes up very smoothly.

Do we have to forget about achieving herd immunity?

I always said that the important thing was not to vaccinate a high percentage of the general population. The important thing was to vaccinate 100% of risk groups. Herd immunity can only be achieved with vaccines that are sterilizing or close to being sterilizing. That is, the virus practically does not multiply in the person and does not spread.

Since this virus is here to stay, will we have to get vaccinated every year?

There is no reason. The vaccines are very robust and very effective. When memory is reactivated, they only cause mild disease. There is no one reason to get vaccinated every year. Faced with all the diseases that we vaccinate against in childhood, we have vaccines close to being sterilizing and others not. And yet we do not revaccinate ourselves from all these diseases throughout our lives.

But from the flu, yes.

Because the flu virus is more difficult, it mutates 10 times more, and flu vaccines are less powerful than coronavirus vaccines. A tougher enemy and worse tools mean we have to revaccinate. But it is the only one. The fact that the covid that is probably seasonally more severe, less than or equal to the flu, we do not know, has nothing to do with the fact that the vaccine will have to be repeated.

Do you dare to put an end date to the pandemic?

We are going to learn how we spend this winter. A population in which only 1% of those over 60 are unvaccinated is ten times better than Europe is, where 10% of this older population has not wanted to be vaccinated. But being ten times better than Europe we will have to learn this winter whether it is enough or not. That is why we have to face it with enough measures. We will learn this winter, the first to be vaccinated. Maybe spring is coming and we see that we have had a good time. I hope we stop braking like last year with the flu. I do not know. Maybe 1% is too much. 1% of those over 60 not vaccinated is the fifth part of the first wave. And the fifth part of the first wave would still saturate Madrid.


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