At this point in the COVID pandemic, most of us have one question at top of mind: When will this finally be over? On Monday, three virus experts published a New York Times opinion piece on what they think is next for COVID-19. Here is their take—and those of other experts—on when the pandemic will effectively end. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had COVID.
The experts told the Times that COVID is essentially here to stay. They noted that every virus evolves to sidestep immunity so it can survive. “We are confident SARS-CoV-2 will continue to evolve to escape immunity,” they said. “While transmissibility of viruses does plateau at a certain point, other human viruses that escape immunity keep doing so. The influenza vaccine has been updated annually for decades to chase viral evolution, and some influenza viruses show no sign of slowing down.”
“We expect SARS-CoV-2 will continue to cause new epidemics, but they will increasingly be driven by the ability to skirt around the immune system,” the experts wrote. “In this sense, the future may look something like the seasonal flu, where new variants cause waves of cases each year.” They envision vaccines being constantly updated, like the annual flu vaccine, unless a broader coronavirus vaccine is developed.
The crucial question: Will new COVID variants cause severe illness? “That is the hardest prediction to make, because evolution selects for viruses that spread well, and whether that makes disease severity go up or down is mostly a matter of luck,” the experts wrote.
Last month, the head of the World Health Organization said the pandemic could officially move to a less urgent phase this summer—if enough of the world gets vaccinated. “Our expectation is that the acute phase of this pandemic will end this year, of course with one condition: the 70 percent vaccination [target is achieved] by mid this year around June, July,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
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“It’s difficult to know exactly how the pandemic will ‘end'” but I think there’s at least a reasonable chance that COVID-19 ends up being less of a public health concern than the flu,” David Dowdy, associate professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said last month. “Even now, for someone who is vaccinated and boosted, the risk of hospitalization is higher if they were to get the flu than if they were to get COVID-19. I think it’s too early to say whether COVID-19 waves will happen every winter, more frequently, or less frequently. But to my mind, if COVID-19 is not causing more people to get seriously ill than another ‘non-pandemic’ infectious disease (seasonal flu, for example), it makes sense to declare the COVID-19 pandemic over.”
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“There are so many variables here that are unknown,” said Catherine Troisi, associate professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston School of Public Health, in Foreign Affairs last month. “On the part of the virus, are we going to see more variants (probably), and if so, will they cause more severe disease and/or be more transmissible and/or would current vaccines not protect us? In terms of human behavior , are we just going to decide the pandemic is over regardless of disease level? Pandemics end in one of two ways—the virus disappears or society decides to live with it. I think we’re headed toward the latter.”
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Follow the fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 facemaskdon’t travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don’t go indoors with people you’re not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don’ don’t visit any of these 35 Places You’re Most Likely to Catch COVID.