Just when predictions of the COVID-19 pandemic ending were made left and right, the Omicron variant went through the door and caused a huge wave of infections. As of writing, 95% of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. are linked to Omicron, with numbers surging faster than ever precedented. Despite this, however, the more transmissible strain is expected to continue infecting more people and breaking all-time case and hospitalization records.
With everything going on with Omicron at the moment, herd immunity seems more impossible than ever. But some health and infectious disease experts disagree. The scientific community is seeing signs that COVID-19 is ending, and we could very well see the finish line of the pandemic sooner than we think.
COVID-19 is Becoming Endemic
Other viruses that have plagued the world in the past came to a point when they became endemic, such as malaria and the common flu, which previously caused severe waves of illnesses and fatalities but now exist regularly among us.
Infectious disease experts predict that COVID-19 is reaching the point of endemicity, thanks to immune protection brought about by vaccines and super immunity from natural infection. Omicron, although more transmissible, is losing strength and severity and giving survivors natural immunity against the virus, signs that this could be the final stage of COVID-19’s pandemic phase.
According to the professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, David Heymann, COVID-19 is becoming endemic and will continue to stay endemic in the foreseeable future, succeeding in its feat to endemicity.
Setbacks Can Delay COVID-19’s Endemicity
Since COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, we have faced different strains of the virus that affected us in their own unique ways. But with Omicron’s arrival, we are amid a variant that is infecting more people but without causing hospitalization and death rates to skyrocket.
This could very well be the beginning of the end, the storm before the rainbow, as they say. But although the scientific community is optimistic in entertaining the possibility of COVID-19 becoming endemic, they still warn that we may encounter setbacks along the way.
The COVID-19 virus is unpredictable, and it can develop more mutations that could potentially be serious public health risks. And if so, new variants of concern could delay the pandemic’s end.
Endemicity Should Not Be Confused With Complete Disappearance
For a virus to be endemic does not mean that it will fully disappear for good. Instead, it will still exist among us — only without causing mass infections and severe illnesses.
According to Mark Woolhouse, an infectious disease epidemiology professor and author of “The Year the World Went Mat: A Scientific Memoir”, COVID-19 will still be among us, possibly infecting people multiple times until we build up a strong natural immunity against it.
It All Depends on What We Do From Here
With Omicron infecting a huge chunk of the global population and more people getting vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19, our future as a pandemic-free world is brighter than ever before. But that’s not to discount the possibility of new, more severe variants developing.
Human behavior, health and safety measures, mask-wearing, vaccination mandates, and other political acts can make or break COVID-19’s road to endemicity. Ultimately, the pandemic’s end depends on what we do from here on out.