“I think we are closer to the start than the end [of the pandemic], and it’s not because the variant we’re looking at right now is going to last that long, ”Dr Brilliant told CNBC news channel.
“Unless we vaccinate everyone in over 200 countries, there will always be new variants,” he said.
He pointed out that only 15% of the world’s population has been vaccinated and that around 100 countries have vaccinated only 5% of their population.
Dr Brilliant, who worked to eradicate smallpox with the World Health Organization (WHO) and warned of a pandemic in 2006, predicted that the coronavirus would eventually become a “perennial virus” like the flu.
He said the Delta variant of the coronavirus “could be the most contagious virus” of all time. The good news, however, is that the vaccines – especially those that use messenger RNA (mRNA) technology – are effective against the variant that was first spotted in India.
The United States is grappling with a Delta Variant-induced surge that has resulted in daily cases peaking in six months. The country reported an average of 100,000 infections after the Delta variant reached its southern states, which are struggling with low vaccination rates.
Dr Brilliant pointed out that the “inverted V-shaped epidemic curve” in San Francisco and New York implies that the Delta variant spreads quickly, but begins to decline once it encounters susceptible candidates.
The variant has wreaked havoc in a number of southern states, including Louisiana, where Covid hospitalizations this week hit an all-time high and resulted in the cancellation of the New Orleans Jazz Festival; and Florida, which has reported more children hospitalized with Covid than any other state in the country.
“I’m warning people this is the Delta variant and we’re not short of Greek letters so there might be more,” he told CNBC.
He said the likelihood of a “super variant” – more deadly than Delta and which can also evade vaccine immunity – was low, but not something that could be completely ruled out.
“It is such a catastrophic event if it were to happen, we have to do everything we can to prevent it,” said Dr Brilliant. “And that means getting everyone immunized – not just in your neighborhood, not just in your family, not just in your country, but all over the world. “
Dr Brilliant also pointed out that while countries with low immunization rates needed to increase them, another category of fully immunized people needed a third or a booster “immediately”.
He said those who were 65 and older and who were fully vaccinated more than six months ago will need a third vaccine because they may have weakened their immune systems.
“It is this category of people that we have seen create multiple mutations when the virus passes through their bodies,” he said.
Dr Brilliant said these people should be reminded “immediately – as quickly as the transfer of vaccines to countries that have not had a very good chance of purchasing or having access to them”.