3 Dec 2021 Episode 195 Call for action omicron and developing countries

Fri, 12/03/2021 - 11:02

Dear colleagues,

This Episode should be on T cells and vaccination, but it’s not. Don’t worry, I have 10 exciting papers for you on that topic, but I should first read and summarize them later today for Episode 196….

Follow-up on our outreach

Twenty amongst you have co-signed the call for action: Joeri Aerts, Sabine Allard, Kevin Arien, Sofie Braet, Vincent Bonin, Justien Cornelis, Sofie Crommen, Ilse Dapper, Nicolas Dauby; Daniel Desmecht, Leo Heyndrickx, Brecht Ingelbeen, Vicky Jespers, Benoit Misset, Emanuelle Papleux, Hans Snoeck, Guido van der Groen, Christophe Van Dijck, Guido Vanham, Veerle Vanlerberghe, François Vermeulen.   Thank you for your support!

Both Geert Molenberghs and Erika Vlieghe, prominent members of the scientific advisory committee for the Belgian government (GEMS) have expressed their support, but they prefer to stay “in the background”, in order to avoid conflict of interest.  The call has also been distributed to the Deans of the Health Faculties.

Several other colleagues have sent important remarks that certainly should be taken into account.  I copy a mail that I received this morning and that nicely highlights some of the concerns, shared by other colleagues as well:

I must confess I hesitate to sign your letter. Indeed, yesterday watching the TV news I heard that Vandenbroucke  (our Minister of Public Health) asks for closing schools 10 days in a trial to cut the transmission from pupils. Second, the cost of tests is still more expensive than vaccination and if we follow your suggestion of regularly testing entire schools + tracing, it will affect our health budget and probably further paralyze our social life. The obligation of vaccination like in Austria or soon in Germany might be poorly acceptable in Belgium although it may be an effective measure for both reducing transmission and hospitalizations.

My feeling is that scientists feed (or try to) policy makers with facts and consequences of observed facts but policymakers have to face multiple pressures from different lobbies and actors leading to a decision always (too)late in regard with the rapid progression of the epidemic.

Clearly, as much as I appreciate the support of the co-signers, I welcome this type of critical comments, because we need to keep an open mind for all aspects of this unseen crisis, where there are no “magic bullet” solutions.

In the meantime, our call has been published in important French-speaking media:



The Flemish media, I contacted yesterday (VRT and De Morgen) have only reacted around 9 AM and I’m not sure what they will do.  In fact, all the attention is now focused on the “inter-governmental consultation committee” that should -finally- take firm decisions to safe our health system this morning…. (For the non-Belgians in the audience: we live in a very complicated country, where nobody wants or dares to take decisions, which renders our country very much crisis-vulnerable…).

In attachment, also an article in De Morgen earlier this week, to which I contributed and talked already about the role of T cells…


Fresh news on Omicron  (with many thanks to Patrick and Pierre)

Ep 195-1:  Pulliam in medRxiv yesterday:

Population-level evidence suggests that the Omicron variant is associated with substantial ability to evade immunity from prior infection (in contrast to alpha and beta).

Urgent questions remain regarding whether Omicron is also able to evade vaccine-induced immunity and the potential implications of reduced immunity to infection on protection against severe disease and death.


Ep 195-2: With regard to the latter, the common press article is at first view reassuring: cases until now have been mild in vaccinated younger people. Which, of course, is not yet the whole story, because what about the non-vaccinated and/or older ones?


Burden in developing countries


Ep 195-3: Levin et al in medRxiv 2 Dec make a thorough analysis:


  • Age-stratified infection fatality rates (IFRs) of COVID-19 in developing countries are about twice those of high-income countries.
  • Seroprevalence (as measured by antibodies against SARS-CoV-2) is broadly similar across age cohorts, underscoring the challenges of protecting older age groups in developing countries.
  •  Population IFR in developing countries is similar to that of high-income countries, because differences in population age structure are roughly offset by disparities in healthcare access as well as elevated infection rates among older age cohorts.


These results underscore the urgency of disseminating vaccines throughout the developing world.


Best wishes,