- According to experts, the Omicron variant’s quick dissemination may aid the COVID-19 pandemic’s shift to a more endemic stage, when the illness is prevalent but controlled.
- High levels of protection from immunizations and past infections, they claim, might impede the virus’s spread and make it more like the flu, however, COVID-19 would not be seasonal like influenza.
- They go on to say that some safety precautions, such as wearing a mask and attending smaller indoor groups, may continue to be used.
COVID-19 has taught us the definition of the word “pandemic”: a worldwide epidemic of illness.
COVID-19, on the other hand, has a strong potential of becoming an endemic disease, which is a condition that is always present in a town, a population, or — in the case of COVID-19 — everywhere on the planet.
Experts warn that the fast spread of the Omicron version might help drive COVID-19 into endemic status in as little as a few months.
The present Omicron surge is expected to climax in the United States by mid-January, according to projections. Some experts observe that instances in South Africa, where the variation was initially detected in late November, have significantly decreased.
Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee and medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, told USAHealthline that “to move from a pandemic to endemic, the population level of immunity has to grow to herd immunity.” “The more infectious the virus, the more herd immunity you’ll need to keep it at bay until it smoulders.”
The Omicron strain is spreading so quickly and broadly that the COVID-19 pandemic might start to fizzle if enough people have some level of protection from vaccination or previous infection.
“If there isn’t a new variation that emerges,” Schaffner added, “we might have some level of endemic by early 2022.”
“COVID-19 will very certainly become an endemic illness,” said Erica Susky, a Toronto-based infection control and hospital epidemiology expert.
“The only alternative option is for a disease to be eliminated if it does not become endemic,” Susky told USAHealthline. “With everything going on in this epidemic, it’s clear that SARS-CoV-2 is superb at human-to-human transmission, cannot be stopped in transmission with any of our existing public health interventions, and will continue to circulate indefinitely.”
Omicron is being eyed by experts as a possible road to endemic status since it spreads quickly but does not appear to be as dangerous as previous forms.
“A disease that is effective and spreads is one that does not kill or seriously damage a large percentage of those who are infected.” As a consequence, a living host who can function properly while unwell can spread the virus to more new hosts,” Susky explained.
“A vast number of people throughout the world have still not [contracted] SARS-CoV-2,” Susky remarked. “When a substantial section of the world’s population has some immunological memory from infection or vaccination, a virus might become endemic.” People that have some immunological memory are less likely to propagate the virus because their immune response prevents viral multiplication.”
“Life will go on,” Susky added, “and the world will learn to live with COVID-19.” “The epidemic will fade away rather than terminate with a bang.”
Learning to live with COVID-19, an endemic virus
Living in a world where COVID-19 is endemic would be similar to how society deals with other endemic diseases like influenza, according to Schaffner.
“New strains can pop up and produce a certain level of sickness in both circumstances,” he added. “Every year, we deal with it by vaccinating as many people as possible.”
One significant distinction is that, unlike flu epidemics, COVID-19 is likely to circulate in the community all year, according to Schaffner.
Some of the socioeconomic and public health improvements brought on by COVID-19 are likely to last. Schaffner believes that booster shots will be necessary on a regular basis.
Massive outbreaks of endemic disease, like severe flu seasons, will continue to put a strain on the healthcare system and economy.
To prevent COVID-19 from re-emerging as a pandemic, widespread vaccination and testing will be essential, especially when new strains arise.
“We may require yearly vaccines (in the early fall) to maintain greater levels of protection and respond to new varieties as they develop,” Sean Clouston, PhD, an epidemiologist and associate professor of public health at Stony Brook University in New York, told USAHealthline.
“However, flu vaccinations have taught us that this is difficult, and persons may not always obtain them, therefore we should expecting COVID-19 winter waves to occur on a regular basis.”
If and when COVID-19 becomes endemic, not only will Zoom meetings and work-from-home arrangements continue to exist. Low-key Christmas gatherings might potentially be a lingering effect of the epidemic.
Clouston stated that “certain pre-COVID cultural occasions, such as holiday parties [or] New Year’s celebrations, are at high risk because they combine high-risk actions with high-risk dates.” “Perhaps larger outdoor events will be more popular in the summer, with smaller, more personal gatherings in the winter.”
When epidemics arise, public health measures such as mask use, physical separation, and even lockdowns may need to be reinstated for a period of time, Schaffner said, and will almost certainly be met with the now-familiar criticism from COVID-19 doubters.
Mask use is expected to become more frequent in the future, particularly in situations where older or immunocompromised people are present, such as hospitals and nursing homes.
“Masks have been used throughout flu season in Asia for decades,” Schaffner added. “We used to think this place was strange. We’ve gotten used to it now.”
“When COVID-19 outbreaks do not happen, specific health policies will likely be in place to minimise transmission with the goal of allowing everyday activities to continue even if COVID-19 is present in the community,” Susky said. “The expectation is that some public health interventions like as paid sick time, increased societal acceptability of masking when ill or in public settings, and working from home if necessary, will last longer.”