Infectious Disease

Questions and Solutions: Is COVID-19 Endemic?

January 04, 2021

2 min read

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During a recent WHO briefing David L. Heymann, MD, The chair of the WHO Strategic and Technical Advisory Group on Infection Risks said vaccines and good public health practice would help the world “learn to live with COVID-19”.

“It currently appears that the fate of SARS-CoV-2 is set to become endemic, as are four other human coronaviruses, and that it will continue to mutate as it multiplies in human cells, especially in areas with more intense transmission,” Heymann said , Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

David L. Heymann

We asked Heymann to further discuss the potential of COVID-19 to remain despite the availability of effective vaccines.

Q: Will SARS-CoV-2 become endemic?

A: Many public health experts believe that SARS-CoV-2, like the other four human coronaviruses and like many other infectious diseases that have emerged in the past, such as tuberculosis and HIV, will become endemic.

Q: How does that look??

A: It is not certain how the epidemiology of the virus could change, but as more people are exposed and develop some kind of immunity or are vaccinated, the virus will find those who are not immune. There may be some sort of herd immunity effect, which means that transmission is reduced throughout the population. However, this cannot yet be predicted as the length and quality of protection against infection after natural infection and after vaccination is unknown and the virus mutates. The epidemiological characteristics can also change. However, this is also unknown and cannot currently be predicted.

Q: Will it be seasonal, like influenza?

A: All respiratory infections can spread better during the winter months when people are closer together in poorly ventilated rooms indoors. These include the four endemic human coronaviruses. It may be that SARS-CoV-2 is also transmitted more frequently in the northern hemisphere for this reason, but it is currently also transmitting well in the summer months.

Q: Where do the biggest problems arise?

A: If vaccines are effective in preventing infection – and not just changing the disease of those infected – the epidemiology will differ in different parts of the world depending on the vaccine protection. Vaccines do not eliminate the need for therapeutics such as antivirals and monoclonal antibody preparations, which will continue to play a role in the long term.

Q: Does the COVID-19 vaccination have to be part of the routine vaccination schedule for children?

A: It depends on whether the vaccine is interrupting transmission and how long the immunity lasts after vaccination. Both are currently unknown.

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