select search filters
roundups & rapid reactions
before the headlines
Fiona fox's blog

expert reaction to whether we are seeing a summer COVID wave

Scientist comment on surges in UK COVID cases.


Prof Mark Woolhouse, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, University of Edinburgh, said:

“The surveillance of Covid cases in the UK is far less intensive than it once was, so it is difficult to track the rise and fall of waves of infection, or to assess the severity of different variants, or to know how effective the vaccines are against them. Even so, there is a widespread impression of a growing 2024 summer wave, much as we saw in 2021 when (coincidently perhaps) there was also a Euros football tournament, and evidence that this contributed significantly to the spread of infection.

“The waves continue to be driven by a combination of new variants and a partial waning immunity to infection. We saw the first hints of this back in 2020 when a small number of people contracted Covid for the second time, but it has since developed into a global pattern. And by mid 2021 it was clear that the vaccines were much more effective at reducing the severity of disease than they were at reducing transmission rates. The implication of what we learned back then is what we are seeing now: continuing circulation of the virus and fluctuating levels of disease, hospitalisations and deaths.

“For now, we have to expect this pattern to continue. Over the coming decades we will shift to a situation where most people are exposed to Covid (possibly several times) when they are young. This will not cause a significant public health problem – healthy young people were never much affected by Covid – but it will result in a build-up of immunity that will make them much less vulnerable when they are elderly and frail. Even so, we may continue to offer vaccines to the most vulnerable groups. But to all intents and purposes Covid-19 will become just another common cold. We’re not there yet though.

“It is worth noting that this scenario was predicted by some scientists (myself included) from very early on in the pandemic. If that view had been accepted more widely at the time the global response to Covid might have been different, but instead it was treated as if it were a short-term problem that, if it didn’t go away of its own accord, would be made insignificant by vaccines that had yet to be developed (and so it was impossible to know what effect they would have on virus circulation). This now looks very naïve, and is a clear lesson that in future our response to a pandemic has to pay attention to the long term as well as to an immediate crisis.”


Declared interests

Mark Woolhouse is author of The Year The World Went Mad (Sandstone Press).



in this section

filter RoundUps by year

search by tag