Even after a COVID-19 vaccine is developed and available worldwide, the virus will likely remain for decades, experts told The Washington Post. Experts in the U.S. are prepared for the prolonged stay of Coronavirus, just like HIV, measles and chickenpox.
A disease which is regularly found among people in a certain region is called ‘endemic’ and that is what experts in epidemiology, disaster planning and vaccine development, fear is the future of Coronavirus.
“This virus is here to stay,” Sarah Cobey, an epidemiologist and evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago, told the Post. “The question is, how do we live with it safely?”
Till now, more than 5.92 million people have already been infected with more than 100,000 new cases every day. Even countries that succeeded in repressing it initially saw a resurgence of fresh cases.
As the world gets used to the idea of a pandemic, they now similarly need to prepare for an endemic. Combating endemic diseases requires sustained effort across the board along with political support. Everyone needs to be on the same page, allocating money, manpower and time, to completely eradicate the disease.
That’s not the case now. Countries are easing lockdown measures and rushing headlong into reopening their economies. WHO is warning of a second wave of the disease which would cause even more casualties.
“It’s like we have attention-deficit disorder right now. Everything we’re doing is just a knee-jerk response to the short-term,” Tom Frieden, former director of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention told the Post.
“People keep asking me, ‘What’s the one thing we have to do?’ The one thing we have to do is to understand that there is not one thing. We need a comprehensive battle strategy, meticulously implemented.”
The future is bleak
Experts say countries should not take big gambles on a quick-fix vaccine. New hot spots are growing as people start moving around.
Leaders need to desperately change their tactics from short-term crisis management to long-term solutions. This could include automatic doors where everyone is not touching a handle, or voice-activate elevators so people do not have to push buttons. Open-floor offices may become things of a bygone era as cubicles and partitions come back.
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Work from home or remote work may become the norm.
The Post predicts that in the first few years of vaccine production, global demand would far outstrip the supply. The class divide would be very visible at this phase with the richer countries outbidding the poorer ones for new shipment. This could devolve into hoarding, ineffective vaccine campaigns and the development of black market channels for dubious cures.
Eventually, experts say the Coronavirus may become relatively benign, causing milder infections, once enough people have been infected or been vaccinated and have developed herd immunity. But to reach that stage, many more would have to die.