'I’m cautiously optimistic': USF expert says pandemic could be nearing an end; watching data closely

Dr. Edwin Michael
Posted at 6:23 AM, Oct 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-18 07:31:15-04

TAMPA, Fla. — “I think, you know, I’m cautiously optimistic. I think this might be the last wave,” said Dr. Edwin Michael, Professor in Epidemiology at the University of South Florida.

Michael created SEIRcast, a COVID-19 forecasting and planning system.

“Right now it’s all looking good, but lately you know the vaccinations have slackened completely in the state. It’s pitiful levels,” said Michael.

He says the model projections have been showing a decrease in cases, though that has been slowing down a bit due to a lack of social measures like mask-wearing and physical distancing.

“The model predictions are showing a decline and then you are now entering a very long tail, you know for the fade-out,” said Michael.

That’s because right now, we have a high level of immunity in our community.

“Right now we are estimating that 86% of the total population is immune from both vaccinations as well as infections right, the people who didn’t take the vaccines,” said Michael.

“It’s a contribution of both infection, which is a very unsafe way getting to herd immunity because you can get sick, and go to the hospital, which is what has happened. And then there is the safe way, the clever way to go and get a vaccine,” he added.

Experts say research shows people who got vaccinated have longer-lasting immunity than those who got infected, but it’s unclear how long either lasts at this point.

“If immunity is long term, we are showing that the peak has already occurred, the last wave. That occurred August 22, some time ago. Since then it’s just been dropping,” said Michael.

He says right now models show COVID-19 cases will continue to decline but here are two huge caveats that could change that — if immunity isn’t long term and if new virus variants emerge.

That’s why experts say getting a COVD-19 vaccine, and a booster shot if you’re eligible, is important because we never know which virus mutation could be next. There’s still a lot of uncertainty.

“We need to vaccinate the remaining susceptible because it’s among them that the mutant will emerge,” said Michael.

“If immunity were to wane now then the system will never fade out because some of us are going to lose our immunity and you’re going to go back into the susceptible class and therefore you’re vulnerable. And that’ll keep the pandemic going. It’ll resemble like the flu,” said Michael.

That will all depend on how quickly immunity wanes.

If it does, we could see another large wave of cases in our future, but so far that’s not the case.

“We are not showing any signs of that occurring because a trace of that should already be occurring right now. We should’ve seen cases rising which we are not,” said Michael.

Researchers say only time will tell.

Experts say the population of people who are still susceptible to a COVID-19 infection, those without any immunity, will be fuel for a resurgence of COVID-19.

“The only problem is if they keep prolonging transmission in the community. Then you might get mutants emerge. That is my only worry now,” said Michael.