(WASHINGTON, D.C.) — Some health officials are expressing doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic will be completely eradicated and have floated the possibility that it could become a seasonal illness, like the flu.
Dr. John Brownstein, chief innovation officer at Boston Children’s Hospital, believes the virus is here to stay but as a downgraded threat once vaccinations become widely circulated.
“This coronavirus is going to be here to stay,” Brownstein told ABC News, noting the virus’ transmission rate and how easily it spreads. “Eradication of this new coronavirus is basically impossible.”
Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center, says COVID-19 is very different from other illnesses deemed eradicated, noting, “It’s not like measles, where you get life-long sterilizing immunity.”
As for getting ahead of the virus, Offit, who also works as a professor of pediatrics in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, believes the development of stronger vaccines and therapies will eventually “cause fewer deaths than influenza.”
The idea that COVID-19 is here to stay and could become another seasonal annoyance came from virologists who say the virus itself is “endemic” — meaning it is in continual circulation. Health officials add that humanity will slowly begin to develop a resistance to the virus as those exposed to it in childhood would be protected later in life against serious disease.
Said Dr. Brownstein, “The hope is that with enough natural immunity and immunizations, this becomes part of the natural cycle of cold season, but doesn’t have the same impact.”
Sarah Cobey, an epidemiologist and evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago, predicts, “I think it will become seasonal. All acute respiratory viral infections are.”
Health officials also note that the idea of herd immunity is not possible, given how there have been reported cases of reinfection, meaning that recovered patients have waning immunity — meaning they could experience have periodic reinfections.
Experts are currently trying to determine how long immunity lasts after infection, but have proved that those recovered from COVID-19 do not have lifelong immunity — but have room to believe that subsequent reinfections will not be as serious as won’t make patients as sick as the first.
COVID-19 has infected over 27.6 million Americans and killed over 486,000 in the U.S., reports Johns Hopkins University.