The light at the end of the pandemic tunnel may be in sight with more than half of American adults vaccinated against COVID-19, but now experts say the virus will never actually be eradicated.
Rather than quitting, COVID-19 will revert to an endemic disease that circulates the world every year, but less deadly, Dr. Gregory Poland, a Mayo Clinic professor of infectious diseases.
“We will continue to live with this virus,” he told DailyMail.com.
‘We could have solved it. Instead, it will always be with us. ‘
Dr. Poland reiterated warnings from experts such as Dr. Anthony Fauci that the burden of COVID-19 was never suppressed far enough to actually eliminate the virus from the US, let alone the world.
And he takes it a step further, warning that without a dramatic decrease in vaccine hesitation, or a dramatic increase in Americans’ willingness to adopt masks and social aloofness when the virus returns, variants will continue to emerge and become more cruel.
Data from Brazil – where the P1 variant, which is still rare in the US, is dominant – suggests that between 80 and 85% of people should have protection from Covid (green and yellow lines). But 20% of Americans say they probably or certainly won’t get the vaccine (red). That means the US will be just short of herd immunity, with the maximum number of people vaccinated at the current rate by mid-August (yellow)
“These variants are bad actors,” says Dr. Poland.
‘They contain the’ malignant trifecta ‘of mutations’ – three changes in the virus that make it better at infecting human cells and better at escaping antibodies -‘ that’s why children get infected who weren’t a year ago – this is a different virus than a year ago. ‘
Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Dr. Rochelle Walensky, raised the alarm again on Monday about this phenomenon.
“Cases and hospitalizations are on the rise in some parts of the country, and cases among younger people, who have not yet been vaccinated, are also on the rise,” she said.
Currently, new infections are declining among all age groups, according to the CDC’s data tracker. But the figures for the past two weeks are probably incomplete, the site says.
But since June, there have been more cases per capita among the 18 to 24 age group than any other age group, and that trend continues.
In briefings earlier this month, Dr. Walensky highlighted outbreaks related to team sports among school-aged children, especially in hard-hit Michigan, that has the second highest prevalence of infections caused by the British B117 variant in the country.
The UK’s B117 variant is now dominant in the US and is likely to be driving the resurgence in cases in 17 states and among young people and children.
Dr. Poland predicts that things are going to get worse.
People between the ages of 18 and 24 (teal) are responsible for more Covid cases per capita than any other age group since June, and the CDC warns that new infections are on the rise among young people due to the increasing prevalence of more contagious varieties
“ The number of cases among the uninitiated is slowly rising, but it will be exponential and people who think they are best with them are now at the greatest risk ever from this pandemic, ” he said, referring to young, healthy people who are vulnerable. are for variants.
“People who have refused vaccinations … are now unprotected against worse viruses than they were a year ago.”
According to the latest Kaiser Health News poll, published March 31, about 20 percent of Americans are still reluctant to get vaccinated.
Herd immunity – the point at which enough of a population is protected by immunity from vaccine infection that prevents a disease from circulating – is generally estimated to be about 75 percent for COVID-19.
If so, there are just enough Americans willing to get vaccinated to suppress the coronavirus.
But the degree of protection needed for the herd’s immunity varies from disease to disease – and Dr. Poland suspects that 75 percent is an underestimate.
In fact, the percentage of a population that must be immunized to achieve herd immunity to COVID-19 is still unknown.
But “what we do know is that a community in Brazil that had 76 percent immunity was still rapidly acquiring cases among susceptible individuals,” he said.
That’s why we think the herd’s immunity with this virus will be just north of it. Let’s guess something in the 80 to 85 percent range, possibly higher.
‘By definition, we probably won’t get there. About 20 to 25 percent [of Americans] am not going to take a vaccine, so we can’t get there with vaccination right now. ‘
As a result, Dr. Poland fears that the coronavirus will become endemic, like the flu, which recurs annually and ends up in an epidemic in different places each year.
That’s because “herd immunity requires a level of spontaneous immunity,” he says.
“If I could wave a wand on Earth right now and 85 to 90 percent of people have immunity and maintain immunity, then the problem is solved.
“But that’s not going to happen.”
So is COVID-19 going to be the new seasonal flu?
That depends on how people behave.
Flu practically disappeared during the pandemic this year, with only 0.7 people hospitalized per 100,000 in the US. Only one child died, compared to 196 in the previous flu season. It was a low point since the CDC began detecting flu in the US
Fewer flu studies were likely conducted and there was a slight increase in flu vaccinations, but experts including Dr. Poles, appreciate the social aloofness, better hand hygiene and, of course, masks.
In comparison, in the 2017-2018 season, an estimated 61,000 people died from influenza – the most since 2009.
Like COVID-19 deaths, most flu deaths occur among older Americans. The death toll from flu is well known and tolerated every year.
If outbreaks of Covid, such as the flu, can be contained by vaccination, behavioral measures such as masks and social distancing, or a combination of the two, future cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are likely to be tolerated as well – for better or for worse.