After 1918 Flu and the second world war, People were in search of a “return to normalcy” and finally found it after years. The new normal is already here with shifts from how people work to how they behave in public. Change is here and is about to stay.
More than ten months and 1,140,000 deaths into the COVID-19 pandemic, people around the world are craving for an end. We all know how it began, why it began but What no one knows yet is how the pandemic will end. This coronavirus is unprecedented in the combination of it being highly contagious, a range of symptoms going from none at all to deadly, and the extent that it has disrupted the world as we know it before 2020.
Past pandemics however do offer hints of the future. While there is no ideal historical example to follow, humanity has gone through several large epidemics in the past century that eventually came to halt – 0 current case. The ways they came to a halt offer guidance to a world looking for ways to restore health and some sense of normalcy.
Unlike measles or smallpox vaccines, which can confer long-term immunity, flu vaccines last for only a few years. Influenza viruses are mutating rapidly to escape immunity. As a result, the vaccines must be updated every year and given regularly. But during a pandemic, even a short-term vaccine is a boon. The 2009 vaccine helped to temper a second wave of cases in the winter. As a result, the virus much more rapidly went the way of the 1918 virus, becoming a widely circulating seasonal flu, from which many people are now protected either by flu shots or by antibodies from a previous infection.
Unless and only if a vaccine is administered to all of the world’s eight billion inhabitants (which is currently very difficult or nearly impossible even among the richest economies), COVID-19 is likely to become endemic. It will circulate and make people sick seasonally—sometimes deadly – as is the case for normal flu by the way.
But if the virus stays in the population long enough, it will start to infect children when they are young. Those cases are typically, though not always, quite mild, and so far the children appear less likely to develop severe disease if they get reinfected as adults. The combination of vaccination and herd immunity will protect many of us. The coronavirus, like most viruses, will live on—but not as a planetary plague.