KEY POINTS

  • Professor Matteo Bassetti claims COVID-19 has been losing its virulence over the past month
  • He said the main cause of the decreased virulence in SARS-CoV-2 is probably genetic mutations 
  • Many doctors are wary of Basetti's optimism, however

An infectious disease expert from Italy who fought long against COVID-19 claims there might no longer be a need for a vaccine since the coronavirus that causes the disease appears to be losing its virulence. SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2) is the virus responsible for COVID-19.

This surprising optimism was voiced by Professor Matteo Bassetti, head of the infectious diseases clinic at the Ospedale Policlinico San Martino in Genova, Italy. Bassetti claimed COVID-19 has been losing its virulence over the past month, and added patients -- even the elderly -- who would have previously died from this highly-infectious disease are now recovering.

"It was like an aggressive tiger in March and April but now it's like a wild cat," he pointed out. "Even elderly patients, aged 80 or 90, are now sitting up in bed and they are breathing without help. The same patients would have died in two or three days before."

Bassetti said the clinical impression is SARS-CoV-2 is changing in severity. He noted the strength SARS-CoV-2 had two months ago isn't the same today.

He concluded the plummeting number of cases might mean a vaccine against COVID-19 is no longer needed. More stunningly, Bassetti predicted COVID-19 might never return.

The main cause of the decreased virulence in SARS-CoV-2 is probably genetic mutations that have greatly reduced the virus' lethality.

"I think the virus has mutated because our immune system reacts to the virus and we have a lower viral load now due to the lockdown, mask-wearing, social distancing," said Bassetti. "Yes, probably it could go away completely without a vaccine. We have fewer and fewer people infected and it could end up with the virus dying out."

His sentiments are shared by Professor Karol Sikora, an oncologist and chief medical officer at Rutherford Health in the United Kingdom. Sikora previously said it's likely COVID-19 could wind-up "petering out by itself."

Other doctors are wary of Basetti's and Sikora's optimism, however. Dr. Bharat Pankhania, a senior clinical lecturer at the University of Exeter Medical School, said the idea COVID-19 will die out quickly is "optimistic in the short term."

Dr. Seema Yasmin, an epidemiologist from Stanford University, called Bassetti's idea "bulls***."

Dr. Oscar MacLean of the University of Glasgow said claims like those being made by Bassetti aren't supported by anything in the scientific literature. These claims also seem fairly implausible on genetic grounds.

Tourism is starting to slowly pick up again in some parts of Italy Tourism is starting to slowly pick up again in some parts of Italy Photo: AFP / Miguel MEDINA