Populations around the world will have to learn to live with it
The new coronavirus may never go away and populations around the world will have to learn to live with it. The coronavirus that causes Covid-19 has infected nearly 20 million people across six continents.
It is raging in countries that never contained the virus. It is resurging in many of the ones that did. If there was ever a time when this coronavirus could be contained, it has probably passed. One outcome is now looking almost certain: This virus is never going away.
American lifestyle magazine The Atlantic reports that public health officials were optimistic when the virus first hit that countries could eradicate the pathogen, given its similarity to the coronavirus that causes SARS—which emerged in 2002 and was "snuffed out" among humans, although not animals, by 2004.
But unlike the coronavirus that causes SARS, the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, spreads more easily and can spread asymptomatically—meaning that a lot of the strategies used to curb SARS are ineffective against the novel coronavirus.
Ultimately, according to Stephen Morse, an epidemiologist at Columbia University, "[i]t's very unlikely we're going to be able to declare the kind of victory we did over SARS."
Health experts say it's likely that enough people will become infected with or vaccinated against the novel coronavirus to end the global pandemic, but that the virus will probably continue to infect people at lower rates.
Ultimately, the "future" of the novel coronavirus will depend largely on the duration and strength of immunity against the virus, according to Yonatan Grad, an infectious disease researcher at Harvard University.
According to models generated by Grad and his colleagues, if immunity against the virus lasts a few months, we could experience another SARS-CoV-2pandemic accompanied by smaller outbreaks of the virus each year.
If immunity lasts two years, infection rates for the virus could peak every other year, according to Grad. Grad explained, "The faster protection goes away, the more difficult for any project to try to move toward eradication."
The same calculations apply to a potential vaccine as well, The Atlantic reports.
A vaccine that provides short-term immunity could require booster shots over time, like the flu shot.
Moreover, even if the world did manage to eliminate the virus from the human population, "it could keep circulating in animals—and spread to humans again," according to The Atlantic.
So far, tigers and minks have caught the novel coronavirus from humans, The Atlantic reports, and research indicates the minks were able to pass the virus back to humans.
But the most likely, best-case scenario, a vaccine would make the new coronavirus "a much less dangerous and less disruptive" threat, such as the flu or other seasonal respiratory viruses, The Atlantic reports.
In this scenario, SARS-CoV-2 would become the fifth coronavirus—joining four other coronaviruses that cause a considerable proportion of common colds—that circulates among humans regularly and seasonally.
"I think this virus is with us to the future," said Ruth Karron, a vaccine researcher at Johns Hopkins. "But so is influenza with us, and for the most part, flu doesn't shut down our societies. We manage it."
"We have a new virus entering the human population for the first time and therefore it is very hard to predict when we will prevail over it," said Michael Ryan, the WHO's emergencies director.
"This virus may become just another endemic virus in our communities and this virus may never go away," he told a virtual press conference in Geneva.
"HIV has not gone away -- but we have come to terms with the virus."