With the sudden surge in contagion cases due to the coronavirus 5th wave in recent days in Pakistan, everyone is skeptical about the future of coronavirus. A question that arises in the minds of almost every person is whether we will be able to live without the fear of being infected again? Are coronavirus cases going down? Will coronavirus end? These questions give birth to other speculations and are more pressing than ever. There is a ray of hope that this pandemic will ultimately become an ‘endemic’ as stated by some experts (via The Vox and Nature). According to Merriam-Webster, endemicity signifies the restriction of something to a locality or a region. This phenomenon also clarifies that we cannot wipe off the virus completely but can be brought to a manageable level. It will still prevail in third-world countries with poor health infrastructure but will drastically decrease due to coronavirus vaccination worldwide. With the omicron variant fueling new waves of infections, this prediction seems a bit too optimistic. Let’s dive deeper into the possibilities and see what the future has in store for us.
According to the World Health Organization, a pandemic is any disease that affects a large number of people in multiple regions of the world. On the other hand, an outbreak signifies the sudden spread of disease. We humans have faced a number of these ‘pandemics and outbreaks.’ We, as species, survived some of them while fighting others. Some were actively fought against, while others reached attenuation. One way or the other, we survived those pandemics, but what are the factors that determine if we will survive this one?
A flashback from history
Consider the examples of the previous pandemics like the Spanish flu or influenza. They are still prevalent in society. In the early 1900s, the influenza pandemic became the reason for more than 50 million deaths worldwide. The Russian plague, the Flu Pandemic of the late 1800s, the American polio pandemic – all were some of the deadliest and most feared pandemics of all time. However, with the passage of time, vaccination, herd immunity, and evolution, these pandemics are nowhere near as harmful as before.
Factors to consider
However, the future of coronavirus depends totally on the kind of immunity we acquire that consequently is dependent on:
- Evolution of the virus
The possibility of ‘eradicating coronavirus’ might not be too realistic. However, the interpretation of not being able to eradicate the virus does not mean the severity and toll it takes would remain the same. With regular periodic vaccines and acquired immunity, damping the impact of this virus is possible. According to Jesse Bloom, a biologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, situated in Seattle, the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) will become a petty and less serious problem, just like the common flu. According to Jeffrey Shaman, an infectious-disease researcher at Columbia University in New York City, the virus might adopt a seasonal pattern just the flu, with sudden outbreaks in winters.
There are a number of limitations in the way of herd immunity and eradication of the coronavirus. Some of them are:
- Immune escape
Researchers observed the inability of the neutralizing antibodies in recognizing some variants, especially the more recent and newer variants. This phenomenon might be a driving factor in the prevalence of coronavirus and its continuing circulation. Although the severity of the infection might vary since there is no solid evidence on the comparison between the variants.
- Mass vaccination
As soon as the vaccines were formulated, many countries began distributing them and made them available to the general public. However, there is still no concrete evidence in the support of the fact that vaccination will completely stop the spread. Neither it is evident that the vaccines once injected will remain effective against the newer and evolutionary advanced variants of the virus. Moreover, experts say that the vaccine must reach at least 55% of the total population which will result in temporary herd immunity if people strictly follow the coronavirus SOPs and guidelines. This, however, is not realistic and possible in many countries including the developing and underdeveloped nations of the world.
The ultimate path of coronavirus to become an endemic cannot be predicted with the evidence available to us right now. However, we can exercise control on the spread and, to some extent, control the future of the virus by taking effective control measures. In the upcoming year, mass vaccination programs must be implemented to drastically reduce the risk and extent of infections, and somehow reach the point of herd immunity. According to Michael Osterholm, an American epidemiologist, where preventive and control measures can reduce the risk, negligence in this regard might lead to the darkest days of the pandemic.