Pfizer executives predict COVID will be endemic as early as 2024. What does COVID's endemicity look like? Much like the flu, where more predictable patterns of outbreaks occur seasonally, with fewer cases at a time and less severe symptoms on average.
While hopes had been high for vaccines and social distancing to eliminate SARS-CoV-2, COVID-19 is apparently here to stay, with 90% of coronavirus researchers believing endemicity is the most likely outcome. With much of the world still unvaccinated, immunity waning against the virus, and vaccinated individuals still transmitting the virus, herd immunity for eliminating COVID is not likely.
But hope remains on the horizon. An evolutionary biologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Jesse Bloom, states, “I do think SARS-CoV-2 will become a less serious problem and something like flu,” hopefully settling into seasonal outbreaks in the winter.
Trevor Bedford, a computational biologist at the same research center, thinks endemic COVID could mean people getting infected about every 3 years on average with most cases being mild.
The other four human coronaviruses that cause common colds are considered endemic. They are suspected to have been in the human population for hundreds of years and to have started out as more severe. Now, these viruses typically infect children who develop mild symptoms and immunity that keeps future infections mild as well, a pattern of behavior viruses exhibit on their way from pandemic to endemic. With coronaviruses that are already endemic, frequent reinfections continue to boost immunity against other related variants.
Vaccination will be especially important in protecting the most vulnerable groups, the elderly and the immunosuppressed, states infectious disease physician Dr. Francis Riedo.
SARS-CoV-2 is the first opportunity researchers have had to track a coronavirus on its way to endemicity. Time will tell how long it takes to get there and how severe cases are in its endemic version.