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Should we expect a new coronavirus outbreak?

Experts from the Department of Gastroenterology, Hepatology, Endocrinology and Infectious Diseases Prof. Dr. Robert Thimme and Prof. Dr. Siegbert Richard Rieg answer questions about the new COVID-19 variant “Pirola”


1. In May 2023, the WHO declares end to COVID-19 as a global health emergency. Five months later, all eyes turn to a new, highly mutated COVID-19 variant called BA.2.86 or "Pirola." Is it different, more or less dangerous than the other COVID variants?

To date, there is no strong evidence that the new "variants of concern" or the "variants under surveillance" (including BA.2.86) have significantly higher pathogenic potential.

2. Has it already reached Europe / Germany?

According to genomic surveillance data, BA.2.86 was detected at low levels (<2% of sequenced isolates) until September 2023.

3. Is Pirola able to overcome existing immunity from COVID-19 vaccines or previous infections? Are the new booster vaccines ready?

Depending on how much time has passed since the last vaccination or SARS-CoV-2 infection, immunity will be overcome to varying degrees. However, based on the evidence to date, the risk of severe disease in persons with previous immunologic events (vaccination or infection) is low.

Booster vaccination with vaccine XBB.1.5 is now available and is recommended for people over 60 years of age and for patients with weakened immune systems and severe underlying diseases.

4. Are the precautionary measures the same? Should we go back to wearing masks?

Social distancing and mask wearing remain effective measures to reduce the risk of transmission, especially in immunocompromised patients with underlying diseases.

5. The children have started school. How can we protect them from the virus?

Children very rarely suffer from severe diseases. After a complete series of vaccinations, regular school attendance is reasonable and recommended (given the collateral damage we have seen with school closures).

6. Are vaccinations planned for the employees of the University Medical Center Freiburg?

As mentioned above, a booster vaccination is recommended for employees over the age of 60 and for employees with weakened immune systems or severe concomitant diseases. All other employees will be offered, but not recommended, a booster vaccination.

7. Will COVID be with us forever? Can we compare it to the flu?

SARS-COV-2 has entered the endemic phase and, like influenza, will most likely be with us in a seasonal pattern for a long time.


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