Virologist Chumakov about omicron peak: ‘Everything should end in Russia by late March’

Virologist Chumakov about omicron peak: ‘Everything should end in Russia by late March’
Photo: stimul.online

Russia will reach the peak of the coronavirus incidence by late Marhc, thinks famous American virologist of Russian origin, Director of the Global Virus Network, Professor of the George Washington University, Doctor of Biological Sciences, the Kazan Imperial University rector’s grandson Konstantin Chumakov. In the first part of his interview with Realnoe Vremya, the doctor put an example of Great Britain and the USA where the omicron wave ended in 2-2,5 months. “Undoubtedly, the current wave in Russia will be greater than the previous ones,” the interlocutor of the newspaper warned and talked about the necessity of vaccination in children, the severity and transmission speed of the omicron.

“The statistics don’t really reflect the real state of affairs”

Mr Chumakov, according to the statistic, Russia seems to be approaching the peak because of the arrival of omicron. As we see, a tendency for a fall is seen in the USA.

Well, yes. The coronavirus peak is over in Great Britain too. Here in America we also have a tendency for a fall.

Over a million of infections a day were registered in the USA during the peak. But is the omicron as scary as it is painted?

Some, in contrast, claim that it is a weak virus, almost a live vaccine and other rubbish. But we can certainly say that the omicron is very contagious. A million infections a day — this figure certainly doesn’t show the whole statistics because not all infected people are tested. In reality I think that we have 3-5 million cases a day.

Those who were vaccinated have quite a mild case. The fact that the omicron is quite mild has to do not only with the variant itself but the case that people have mainly been vaccinated or recovered.

Most of the population has been inoculated in the USA. According to the Russian Health Care Ministry, 70% of adults have received a vaccine in our country. Do you think that the omicron wave in Russia won’t be as smooth as it is in the countries with a higher vaccination rate in the population?

There is some logic here. Not as much population has been vaccinated in Russia as we would like. At the same time, many have already recovered in Russia. The Russian statistics don’t really illustrate the real state of affairs. All my Russian friends have already recovered. So it feels like much more people got infected in Russia than it was officially reported.

Photo: Maxim Platonov
The Russian statistics don’t really illustrate the real state of affairs. All my Russian friends have already recovered. So it feels like much more people got infected in Russia than it was officially reported

“The current wave will be greater than the previous one”

How do you think the events in Russia will unfold?

Your numbers will unlikely reach those of the USA. Again, the statistics are the case. But of course, the current wave will be greater than the previous one. However, a total catastrophe is unlikely.

The events in Russia will likely unfold as they do in the rest of the countries. Most of the population in any case has background immunity, which doesn’t protect from the disease itself but it protects from severe forms. This is key. But we should understand that old antibodies work poorly against the omicron.

Will T-cell immunity go into action in this case?

Yes, T cells and much more. So other factors work, not antibodies. Antibodies don’t work so good in the case of omicron. If a person was vaccinated, antibodies don’t work well. Those who were vaccinated three times by receiving a booster vaccine (revaccination), the antibodies work better.

Some people doubt if they should be revaccinated six months after vaccination or the disease. What will you recommend them considering that the vaccine isn’t so effective against the omicron?

This isn’t so necessary, but revaccination won’t do harm. If a person is concerned and he or she doesn’t want to have even a mild case, one should get vaccinated, of course. One never should miss the chance of vaccination.

When do you think Russia will reach the peak of the current wave because of the arrival of omicron?

In Great Britain, this wave ended in 2-2,5 months. In the USA, the dynamics are very similar. There is no special foundation to think that in Russia it will be completely different. So following this line, everything should end in Russia by late March. Moreover, spring will come, while respiratory diseases will get active in winter.

Photo: Rinat Nazmetdinov
Everything should end in Russia by late March. Moreover, spring will come, while respiratory diseases will get active in winter

“The probability that the people who have been vaccinated will go to hospital is 50 times lower than those of unvaccinated”

Did the picture of the disease in terms of symptoms and the frequency of hospitalisation seriously changed because of the coming of the omicron? Tests detect much more cases than during the previous waves, while the number of severely ill patients isn’t growing...

Of course, the omicron is a bit different. It goes through the immunity, and people fall ill, but not severely. I think the situation changed because people have immunity after a disease or vaccination. This is why the symptoms are different. But pneumonia isn’t so widespread, thrombosis is much less frequent.

A headache, runny nose, cough, tiredness, muscle pain, a throat ache are key symptoms, it is what we got used to in the flu, cold-related diseases. In general the omicron develops like cold. But the picture I am talking about is seen among the vaccinated. The picture among unvaccinated can be serious enough.

According to the statistics obtained after the outbreak of omicron in the USA, the probability that the people who were vaccinated is 50 times lower than for those who weren’t. This is a good fact for those who hesitate if they should be vaccinated. You have a chance of reducing the probability of ending up in the hospital 50 times.

Photo: Maxim Platonov
According to the statistics obtained after the outbreak of omicron in the USA, the probability that the people who were vaccinated is 50 times lower than for those who weren’t

“People decided if they got a jab, they will never sneeze”

Some people saw the research on omicron and its abilities to cope with antibodies after vaccination decided that the vaccine is useless...

The case is that people became “too smart” and learnt smart words like “antibodies” and so on. But people do not always understand what it is in reality. Yes, in fact, antibodies don’t protect from the omicron.

People say: “Oh, the vaccine doesn’t work because everybody is getting ill. Far from it. The vaccine works perfectly because nobody promised the vaccine would protect from the possibility of infection. There is no vaccine in the world that would protect from respiratory diseases — such vaccines simply don’t exist. The vaccine against the flu doesn’t protect you from the flu itself, it protects from a death from the flu, from severe consequences. People simply don’t understand it. They decided if they got a jab, they will never sneeze.”

This isn’t true. It is of course unpleasant to have a runny nose for two days. But everybody got used to this a long time ago.

How contagious is the omicron compared to other variants? Is it enough to pass by an infected person without a mask outdoors or isn’t it so scary?

The omicron is very contagious. Earlier, textbooks used to say that measles was the most contagious virus. While now the contagiousness of the omicron is comparable to measles. I have acquaintances who didn’t contact anybody, didn’t talk, stayed home, went out in a mask and don’t understand themselves whom they could be infected from. So the omicron is very contagious.

If you are afraid of the infection, wear a mask. This will in any case help by reducing the severity of the possible disease because even if you got infected, the amount of the virus that gets in will be smaller. While the lower dose of the virus gets into the organism, the milder the disease is. A higher dose of the virus can get through any immunity.

It is useful to wear masks at least because this reduces the chances of infection, though it is not a guarantee. Also, it protects not only from COVID-19 but also from other infections, including the flu.

Photo: Ilya Repin
It is useful to wear masks at least because this reduces the chances of infection, though it is not a guarantee. Also, it protects not only from COVID-19 but also from other infections, including the flu

“Smart parents have had their children vaccinated”

Did children started to get infected more with the coming of the omicron in the USA?

Yes, without doubt. It is one of the peculiarities of the current wave. Young people and children fall ill more often. This can partly be related to the change of the virus itself. It became more contagious and copes with even with a child’s immunity. As a rule, children have good immunity, and previous coronavirus variants didn’t get to children. While the omicron can get to children thanks to high contagiousness. The second factor is that most adults and the elderly were vaccinated, while a lot of children haven’t yet been inoculated. As a result, compared to other groups of the population, children started to fall ill more often than before.

If children fell ill very rarely during the previous waves, now the incidence is very high. It is plain to see.

How do children go through coronavirus? If a child doesn’t have accompanying diseases, is COVID-19 like cold? Or is a multisystem inflammatory system not such a rare occurrence?

In general coronavirus in children is mild. But some go to the hospital. While others even die, unfortunately. Hundreds of children died from COVID-19 during the pandemic in the USA. So it is rare but happens.

How active is the vaccination of children in the USA? Considering that it started in the USA quite a long time ago and even kids from 5 are already vaccinated?

Some parents don’t want to have their children vaccinated. Many have done this. Children's vaccine is available for everybody here. And the statistics on the vaccinated varies in every state.

A lot turns on parents. Smart and caring parents got their children vaccinated, those who aren’t didn’t.

Photo: Maxim Platonov
People got crazy. They are offered a lifeline, while they refuse it. Those who don’t want to have their children vaccinated simply play roulette. They risk their children and their own health

“Those who don’t want to have their children vaccinated simply play roulette”

The first lot of the vaccine for teenagers from 12 years arrived in Tatarstan in January. But according to the moods in society, it seems that these unlucky 3,000 doses will remain unclaimed while 200,000 were requested. What do you recommend to those who are in doubt?

It is trouble. People got crazy. They are offered a lifeline, while they refuse it. Those who don’t want to have their children vaccinated simply play roulette. They risk their children and their own health. Perhaps, most children don’t fall ill seriously, but they are effective carriers, they can infect parents, grandparents.

It seems that children should be vaccinated. It is a very fertile class of the population for the virus. It is necessary to protect as much as possible. But I am not sure that we will manage to reach out to antivaxxers. Moreover, not the mind but some other things are often the case.

“Nobody reports that a person was vaccinated with the Sputnik and died”

Those who don’t want their children to be vaccinated often claim the Sputnik M is now going through phase 3 of clinical trials. This is why they are afraid of having their children vaccinated with a vaccine that wasn’t thoroughly studied.

This is fair to some extent. Of course, the trials aren’t over. But millions of people have received the Sputnik V. and there isn’t serious foundation to question its safety. nobody reports that a person was vaccinated with the Sputnik and died, there is no such thing. Of course, something can be omitted. When we are talking about Russia, it is necessary divide and multiply this into a number of factors. The authorities in Russia prefer to say nothing bad. In any case such information would anyway come up, the truth will out. But nobody complains that they were vaccinated with the Sputnik and died, not. I haven’t heard real information about this. Unfortunately, the real statistics aren’t published either. This is why one has to guess.

But it seems to me that the fact that the Sputnik has been used both in Argentina and Hungary provides additional guarantees. It would be much more difficult to hide this. I am sure that the Sputnik vaccine is in general okay and it contains nothing bad. Even though it was examined in a hurry and a lot was done not by the rules.

But this left behind, nothing can change now. In general the vaccine turned out to be good. I wouldn’t doubt. If I didn’t have alternatives, I would have my grandchildren vaccinated with the Sputnik V and wouldn’t doubt, of course.

Photo: Maxim Platonov

If I didn’t have alternatives, I would have my grandchildren vaccinated with the Sputnik V and wouldn’t doubt, of course

Interviewed by Kristina Ivanova