Global eradication of COVID-19 likely feasible, experts say
The global eradication of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 is likely feasible, more so than it is for polio, although considerably less so than it was for smallpox, suggests a new study published in the journal BMJ Global Health.
Vaccination, public health measures, and global interest in achieving this goal because of the huge financial and social havoc wrought by the coronavirus pandemic, all make eradication possible, the researchers said. But the main challenges lie in securing sufficiently high vaccine coverage and being able to respond quickly enough to variants that may evade immunity, they said.
To estimate the feasibility of COVID-19 eradication, defined as “the permanent reduction to zero of the worldwide incidences of infection caused by a specific agent as a result of deliberate efforts,” the researchers compared it with two other viral scourges for which vaccines were or are available, smallpox and polio, using an array of technical, sociopolitical, and economic factors that are likely to help achieve this goal. They used a three-point scoring system for each of 17 variables. These included factors such as the availability of a safe and effective vaccine; lifelong immunity; impact of public health measures; effective government management of infection control messaging; political and public concern about the economic and social impacts of the infection; and public acceptance of infection control measures.
Smallpox was declared eradicated in 1980 and two out of the three serotypes of poliovirus have also been eradicated globally. The average total scores in the analysis added up to 2.7 for smallpox, 1.6 for COVID-19, and 1.5 for polio.
“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,” the authors wrote.
The researchers said they acknowledge that relative to smallpox and polio, the technical challenges of COVID-19 eradication include poor vaccine acceptance, and the emergence of more highly transmissible variants that may evade immunity, potentially outrunning global vaccination programs. 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, they said.
Further, the researchers acknowledge that their study is preliminary, and more extensive in-depth work is required. The World Health Organization, or a coalition of national-level agencies working collaboratively, needs to formally review the feasibility and desirability of attempting COVID-19 eradication, they said.