For the pandemic to come to an end, about 75% of the population needs to be vaccinated to reach herd immunity. Based on the current rate of vaccinations worldwide, the coronavirus pandemic is estimated to last for another seven years. More than 4.5 million vaccines are being administered a day, for a total of 119.8 million shots given worldwide.
So far, the US has only vaccinated 11.12 percent of its population, at a rate of 1.3 million shots given a day. Despite lagging behind a few other countries, the US is predicted to reach herd immunity by New Year’s 2022. But nothing is set in stone as new variants of the coronavirus have emerged, which could possibly reduce the potency of each vaccine.
Variants add immense urgency to the global vaccine campaign. If herd immunity is reached, the variants’ spread will be limited and new ones won’t have a chance to multiply. But if the vaccine campaign moves too slowly, variants that can resist vaccines could become dominant, new ones could arise, and further prolong the pandemic.
What Happens Next?
We can’t say for sure what the future of COVID-19 entails. But based on the history of other infections, there is little reason to believe that the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 will go away completely, even when herd immunity takes hold. A more realistic scenario is the virus being added to a growing family of infectious diseases that are known as “endemic.”
The best we can hope for is an uneasy truce. “The chances of this disease going away are very small,” says Kate Baker, an infectious disease researcher at the University of Liverpool in the UK. “I think we’re going to end up tolerating a certain level of disease.”
In other words, the future of COVID-19 comes down to one of two possible paths. Either the virus gets eradicated, or it survives. And if it survives, then the disease will become endemic, Baker says. In the future, COVID-19 will likely become similar to several other diseases that we have learned to live with (e.g. influenza, measles, common cold).
“I don’t think that anyone who is reasonably well-informed about infectious diseases and how they move in populations thinks we are going to eradicate COVID,” Baker says.
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