Experts are learning more about Covid-19 as it continues to circulate around the globe, leading to high hospitalisations and death tolls in several countries.
When the pandemic started, the public initially hoped a vaccine could eradicate the virus by assisting the world in achieving herd immunity. But officials have warned the virus could return each year like the flu.
Now, more research into Covid-19 reveals the virus could stay among communities forever, but not at the current levels of infection and fatality rates as the current pandemic.
“This coronavirus is going to be here to stay,” said Dr John Brownstein, chief innovation officer at Boston Children’s Hospital, when speaking to ABC News. “Eradication of this new coronavirus is basically impossible.”
Dr Brownstein’s prediction coincided with a recent study that said SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes Covid-19 – could eventually become no more infectious than the common cold, reappearing seasonally alongside other coronavirus pathogens in the form of mild symptoms.
But this would rely on Covid-19 becoming endemic, which means the virus no longer causes massive outbreaks or serious illness consistently within communities, according to the researchers from Emory University in Georgia and Penn State University.
“The timing of how long it takes to get to this sort of endemic state depends on how quickly the disease is spreading, and how quickly vaccination is rolled out,” said study lead author Jennie Lavine when speaking to The New York Times. “So really, the name of the game is getting everyone exposed for the first time to the vaccine as quickly as possible.”
Covid-19 took a grim toll on adult immune systems because it was an unknown pathogen, meaning the body was not used to fighting off the novel virus.
But human response to the virus will likely change as more and more adults receive a Covid-19 vaccine or naturally contract the virus, helping them to form an immunity against the pathogen. This would then transition the reaction in future infections to be closer to that of the common cold, the study hypothesised.
Children, on the other hand, have not been impacted by the novel virus compared to adults because their bodies are used to being challenged by unknown pathogens. Eventually, the researchers anticipate the virus might only be a concern to children ages 5 years and younger.
The study looked at six human coronaviruses, four of which were spread between people and caused only mild symptoms. The other two were severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), which emerged in 2003 and 2012, respectively, and resulted in high infection and death rates but did not spread widely.
Dr Levine and her team hypothesise that Covid-19 most resembles the endemic cold coronaviruses, meaning it could reappear seasonally instead of disappearing altogether.
Vaccines could change the course of the novel virus, depending on how swiftly the public receives the treatment and the jabs efficacy.
If the vaccine prevents people from transmitting the virus, then that could mean the public has to receive the jab once like a measles vaccine. But if the jab does not prevent transmission, then a booster could be needed every year to prevent infections.
“It’s unlikely that the vaccines we have right now are going to provide sterilising immunity,” the kind needed to prevent infection, said Jennifer Gommerman, an immunologist at the University of Toronto, when speaking to The New York Times.
Dr Levine and her team predicted the vaccines would be unable to eradicate Covid-19, thus leaving the virus as a permanent, but less deadly, pathogen on Earth.