Former health minister Ginés González García confirmed the first case of Covid-19 in Argentina on March 3, 2020. Since then, there has been a global pandemic and three years have passed with more than 130,000 Covid-19-related deaths and more than 10 million people infected in Argentina. There has been confusion, a hunt for vaccines, a mass immunisation campaign, social changes and a long series of etceteras that we still do not fully understand.
Last weekend, three years on from that date, President Alberto Fernández and Health Minister Carla Vizzotti staged a conference at the Kirchner Cultural Centre (CCK) entitled "One country, one response.” Bringing together representatives of the Federal Health Council and healthcare professionals from all of Argentina’s provinces and representatives from decentralised bodies and the private sector, the event sought to highlight the actions taken in response to the pandemic and to pay tribute to those who struggled against the virus.
The global impact was enormous: an estimated 20 million people have died directly or indirectly. The coronavirus pandemic was arguably the most serious tragedy of the last 100 years, second only to World War II.
Dr Luis Cámera is a clinician and advisor to the national government. He was one of the professionals who “faced up” during the crisis to explain what was happening and how to deal with it.
Thirty-six months on, he says the crisis has changed “into something else,” quite “different from the original.”
"If we analyse how the coronavirus and its latest strains – especially Omicron – evolved, [the virus] has changed a lot since 2020,” he explains. “The now predominant variant is able to evade vaccine protection against infection and is highly transmissible. But it has also become less lethal.”
Cámera compares some of the variants to illustrate his point. “To put it in perspective: Delta had a fatality rate of three deaths per 100 infected, while Omicron has a fatality rate of less than one. If we add to this the fact that a high percentage of the population is vaccinated or has had the disease, we can say that the concept of a pandemic has changed over the past year. It is no longer Covid-19 infecting susceptible or unvaccinated people,” says the doctor, who works at the Hospital Italiano in Buenos Aires City.
“I think we should now be talking about ‘Covid-22’; the pandemic mode is over. We are are in an ‘epi-pandemic,’ with a situation of people who become infected with SARS-Cov-2 again, but who go through it with minor symptoms,” he adds.
Learnings and vaccines
For the specialist, Argentina will continue to have outbreaks of coronavirus transmission, but they will be short and only cause flu-like symptoms. As long, he stresses, as the population is vaccinated and topped up on booster jabs. Covid-19’s mortality rate is low, says Cámera, and it has become a disease with few complications.”
Dr Cámera repeatedly stresses the importance of vaccination. “We will have to have an annual booster,” he says, calling for the national government to add it to the compulsory national vaccination agenda. “We may have to prioritise which at-risk groups to offer it to, as it may not be necessary to vaccinate the whole population as it is now.
And what did we learn from the pandemic? For Cámera, “doctors learned how to better manage patients and the logistics of professional practice,” as well as how to “coordinate team efforts.” He adds, however, that the healthcare professionals that saved lives “did not receive the social or economic recognition they deserved for having been at the forefront.” Cámera observes that many in his industry have left the profession as a result.
In truth, he believes Argentina has missed “a great opportunity to rethink public health issues.”
“For example, there is no more talk about improving ventilation systems in enclosed environments where people gather, or how to make the use of quality air filters more accessible and universal,” he explains. “If we could change these things, not only would there be less Covid, but other infectious respiratory diseases would also be reduced.”
Warnings about a potential global pandemic, he said, were ignored in the lead-up to the virus crisis.
”We didn't take it seriously. If we had, vaccines could have been available much earlier. It also happened that certain institutions found it difficult to change their paradigms, as was the case with the WHO [World Health Organisation] and its view of the mode of transmission.
“We have to learn from that for the future,” he warns.
◆ The Covid-19 pandemic was the biggest health crisis of the last hundred years.
◆ 95 percent of Argentina’s population has previously been infected with the virus or has received their vaccination or booster jabs.
◆ The coronavirus caused more than 130,000 deaths in Argentina.
◆ At least 41 million Argentines started a vaccination schedule.
◆ A group of researchers from the CONICET scientific research council are currently developing a vaccine which is in Phase II/III trials.