Last year, health experts including Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, stated that COVID-19 may actually never go away even after a vaccination has been developed.
This is because of the highly contagious nature of SARS-CoV-2, which is the virus responsible for the infection. In addition, the virus can also mutate and develop resistance to the newly released vaccines or any other treatment developed in the future ineffective.
Before the ongoing coronavirus pandemic started, this problem was already present in the case of the influenza virus. Originally, the H1N1 virus, or the virus that causes flu spread during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic.
After the end of the health crisis in 1920, the pandemic turned into an ‘endemic’. This means that the virus turned into a seasonal infection occurring during the colder months of the year.
To this day, there are thousands of flu infection in the US during every flu season, many of which require hospitalization and professional care. In fact, influenza is responsible for a much bigger number of deaths than COVID-19.
Like the coronavirus, H1N1 infection can be potentially deadly in at-risk groups. For instance, older adults are usually at a higher risk of complications.
In addition, those with existent medical conditions are also more likely to get hospitalized due to influenza.
Keeping these factors in mind, it can be said that there are high chances of COVID-19 becoming endemic.
Vaccines for coronavirus are being distributed last month. Even though the speed is not as fast, there are chances of achieving global immunity by the summer of this year. However, that is only possible if there is a collaborative effort to end the pandemic.
As said by Dr. Fauci, if people take guidelines for coronavirus seriously and get a vaccine, the crisis may be controlled before the summer but at the same time, it does not mean that the virus will disappear completely.
Even with the strictest lockdowns and fastest vaccine distribution, there are high chances of the virus returning each year during the winter, just like influenza.
In fact, the recent mutations in the virus have already raised a number of concerns. Though research from Pfizer shows that the vaccine works against the new strains from South Africa and the UK, new strains that may develop and spread in the future may be resistant to vaccines.
Since the evidence for SARS-CoV-2 becoming an endemic is strong, there is a need to devise new health policies for managing problems that may occur because of the infection becoming seasonal.
For example, COVID-19 occurring seasonally along with influenza may increase the issue of bedding and space to accommodate patients. This problem along with many others in the healthcare system has already been accentuated generally because of the pandemic.
Even if the infection becomes seasonal, lessons from the pandemic can help in improving the system that may be able to manage a new endemic as well as any infectious disease outbreaks in the future.