It’s been almost two full years now since the world completely changed — two years’ worth of new variants, rising cases, strict mandates, and more. And just when we thought that we were in the final surge of COVID-19, a new variant, coined “delta plus,” emerges, threatening to be more transmissible than its mother strain, delta.
While it seems like COVID-19 is never going to end, experts are still hopeful that we, as a nation, can achieve herd immunity after the majority of the population has been fully vaccinated against the virus. But herd immunity does not mean that COVID-19 will be completely gone (and for good) — just that we won’t be affected by it, similar to what vaccines do for other respiratory viruses, such as the common cold.
According to the U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, the U.S. can “learn to live with” COVID-19. As vaccination rates soar and super immunity slowly begins to become understood and replicated, it’s likely that COVID-19 will reduce in severity and will be treated not as a global pandemic, but a regular respiratory virus — present, but no longer fatal nor disruptive of daily life.
Vaccines Prove Their Effectiveness
Scientists predicted that as more and more people get vaccinated against COVID-19, the weaker the virus becomes, signified by reduced cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. True enough, fully vaccinated individuals were protected against severe COVID-19 symptoms and accounted for a small percentage of COVID-19 infections.
According to a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), unvaccinated individuals are four and a half times more likely to get infected with COVID-19, 10 times more likely to be hospitalized, 11 times more likely to be at risk of fatality.
This data goes to show that vaccines are the key to stopping COVID-19 and achieving herd immunity. As of writing, 195 million people in the U.S. are fully vaccinated, which accounts for roughly 59.2% of the total population.
Antiviral Medications Being Developed
Along with vaccines, antiviral medications have also been developed as a treatment for COVID-19 patients. Although, these pills are not meant to be alternatives for vaccines. Instead, they are recommended for patients infected with mild to moderate COVID-19.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved the use of casirivimab and imdevimab, monoclonal antibodies effective in treating COVID-19 symptoms. Better known as Ronapreve, the antiviral drug is recognized by the World Health Organization as a viable treatment for non-severe COVID-19 patients, helping them build a strong antibody response against the virus.
According to data, Ronapreve can reduce the risk of hospitalization and fatalities by up to 70%. Because of its proven effectiveness, the pill is currently being used in the United States, United Kingdom, Japan, India, and the Philippines, among others.
At the moment, steps are being taken to develop and gain approval for other antiviral medications, including molnupiravir, developed by Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, and Pfizer’s Paxlovid, which boasts an 89% reduction in hospitalization and death risks. The FDA is yet to review and approve both antiviral medications.
Herd Immunity On the Horizon
With all these plans and developments making significant progress in the fight against COVID-19, we are well on our way to achieving herd immunity. While the COVID-19 virus will always be there lurking, vaccines and potential antiviral medications will boost our immunity and prevent us from getting sick — well until it loosens its hold on the world.
In the meantime, however, let’s do our part in observing basic health and safety protocols, such as mask-wearing, social distancing, and frequent sanitizing. Because a huge indicator of when COVID-19 will end depends on human behavior, even the smallest actions done by all 7.7 billion of us will make a drastic difference.