“Now practically everything is open and the atmosphere is so different, so much lighter and happier. We feel safe while the other cities around us are in a very difficult situation,” said Ricardo Luis, owner of a famous restaurant in Serrana.
Four months after the start of the experiment, known as Project S, this quiet city, surrounded by sugar plantations, has acquired the atmosphere of pre-pandemic days, Lewis said.
His business is recovering from a year of hardship and currently accounts for 70% of the revenue it made before the pandemic.
“People feel safe to leave the house,” he said, adding that he was no longer afraid of his family or acquaintances who roam the city̵
Nationally, Brazil has the second largest number of Covid-19 deaths in the world, after the United States, and is heading for its third wave with increasing daily deaths and deaths. Only 10% of Brazil’s population is fully vaccinated.
But people living in Serrana say they are experiencing a very different reality, thanks to Project S.
The full findings of Project S researchers have not yet been reviewed or published. According to preliminary results published on June 1, the study showed an 80% reduction in the number of symptomatic cases. Covid-related hospitalizations fell 86 percent and deaths fell 95 percent, a figure hailed by Sao Paulo Gov. Joao Doria as a good omen for the rest of the country.
According to the study, immunization generates a kind of “immune belt” in Serrana, drastically reducing the transmission of coronavirus in the municipality, even when the virus is raging across the country.
“The most important result was to understand that we can control the pandemic even without vaccinating the entire population. When the range reaches 70%, 75% (of the Serrana population), the drop in frequency is seen even in the group that has not yet has completed the vaccination schedule, “said Ricardo Palacios, medical director of clinical research at the Butantan Institute, in an interview with CNN International the day after the press conference.
But until the institute in Bhutan publishes its full survey data and is reviewed, not everyone is jumping to applaud the results – or to release hygiene precautions.
Jose Angelo Marquis owns a beauty salon in Serana and was fully vaccinated in April. His business works with protocols created by the Sao Paulo state government, such as limited capacity for presence and distance between customers, and Marquez says he will not pick them up until he sees the figures behind the percentages.
“I want to see the numbers. That would make me feel more secure,” he says.
He, his wife and his parents were infected with Covid-19 last year. Most had mild symptoms or were asymptomatic, but Marquez’s 81-year-old father died of Covid-19 less than a month later.
Vaccination has helped the family cope with their grief, Mark admits. “Now we’ve relaxed a little bit. We’re close to each other now, we’re hugging, and that helps us a lot to deal with my father’s absence.”
About 330 kilometers from the state capital of Sao Paulo, Serrana is considered a dormitory, with much of the population traveling to work in larger neighboring cities such as Ribeirao Preto. This influx of people caused a high prevalence of Covid-19 infections in early 2021, according to Marcos Borges, principal investigator at Project S.
“More than 10,000 people here go to work in other cities. This leads to the huge spread of these infectious and contagious diseases,” Borges said. “One in 20 people in Serana is infected and is transmitting the disease, and that caught our attention.”
“We suffered so much with Covid-19 here at the beginning of the year. It hit us very hard. Our small health system collapsed. It was as if a very dark cloud was over the city,” said Serrana Mayor Leonardo Capitelli.
Brazil is struggling to get enough vaccines for its population of 211 million. Knowing that herd immunity could come for a long time for the country, Bhutan Institute Director Dimas Covas and Borges are seeking to vaccinate a high percentage of the population in Serana in a short period of time to see if herd immunity can be achieved locally. .
“We wanted to see if vaccination could prevent the transmission of the virus, reduce serious cases and hospitalization,” Borges said. The high prevalence of Serrana’s Corana-19, its small population, and proximity to Ribeirao Preto Medical University and the state hospital made it an ideal candidate.
The method used in the clinical trial is called a stepwise wedge study, in which the city is divided into 25 subzones, forming four large groups of the population who received the vaccine in consecutive weeks between February and April.
Ricardo Palacios says vaccination planning has consistently allowed the research team to evaluate and compare areas.
“By the time the third group received their second dose, about 75% of the eligible population, we noticed that the outbreak was effectively under control throughout the city,” he said, adding that it signaled that widespread vaccination could indirectly protect even non-immunized populations, such as children and adolescents.
“The reduction in cases of people who have not received the vaccine shows a decline in the circulation of the virus. This strengthens vaccination as a measure of public health, not just as an individual,” he said.
Mayor Capitelli says Serrana’s two primary care hospitals are much less crowded today.
“Forty-fifty days ago we had about 160 to 180 people coming to our hospitals every day showing symptoms of respiratory syndrome, and about 69% were positive for Covid-19. Now hospital attendance has dropped to 30, 35 people a day and only a 20 to 25% positive test for Covid-19, “he said.
“We had one Serrana before Project S and another after. Our economy is growing, many new companies are interested in investing here, people are back to life and we are getting better every day,” the mayor added.
But the masks remain on
However, life is not completely normal.
As the virus remains out of control in the region, Serana residents still have to wear masks and social distance, a basic sanitary order applied throughout the country.
Business in Serana also maintains state-limited capacity constraints, as opposed to the complete closure imposed in some nearby cities.
“This still needs to be respected, as the region is in chaos, cities and health systems have collapsed,” said Mayor Kapitelli.
The full results of the study are expected to be published by early July. But the S. project will continue until February next year, with researchers constantly monitoring the residents of Serrana. As new viral variants continue to emerge, researchers hope that Coronavac will remain effective – and that Serrana will continue to enjoy its apparent victory.
“Important findings from the study could support immunization strategies in Brazil and around the world and give hope for controlling a pandemic with vaccines like Coronavac,” said Dimas Covas, head of the Bhutan Institute.
For now, Ricardo Luis, the restaurant’s owner, says he can now feel the psychological benefits of participating in Project S.
“My hope is restored. Even my self-esteem has returned,” he said.
“Four months ago it was difficult to see the end of it all. We are a small town and we all know each other. We felt the pain of others as if it were ours. It was difficult. But now we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, we see it is it’s possible to get back to normal and we can feel happy again. “