Pandemics do come to an end eventually, though omicron makes it difficult to know when it will. But it won’t be like flipping a switch: the world will have to learn to coexist with a virus that is not going to go away.

The ultra-contagious omicron mutant is pushing cases to record levels and causing mayhem as an exhausted world struggles, once again, to stem the spread. But this time, we are not starting from scratch.

Vaccines offer strong protection against serious illness, although they do not always prevent a mild infection.

Omicron does not appear to be as deadly as some earlier variants. And those who survive will benefit from renewed protection against other forms of viruses still circulating and possibly the next mutant to emerge as well.

The most recent variant is a warning about what will continue to happen unless we take the endgame really seriously, said Dr. Albert Ko, infectious disease specialist at the Yale School of Public Health.

Certainly, COVID will be with us forever, Ko added.

We can never eradicate or eliminate COVID, so we must identify our goals.

At some point, the World Health Organization will determine when enough countries have sufficiently brought their COVID-19 cases under control or at least hospitalizations and deaths to officially declare the end of the pandemic. It is not clear what exactly this threshold will be.

Even when this happens, some parts of the world will still struggle, especially low-income countries that lack enough vaccines or treatments, while others go more easily into what scientists call an endemic state.

These are fuzzy distinctions, said infectious disease expert Stephen Kissler of Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.

He defines the endemic period as reaching some kind of acceptable steady state to deal with COVID-19.

The omicron crisis shows that we are not there yet, but I think we will reach a point where SARS-CoV-2 is endemic, just like the flu is endemic, he said.

For comparison, COVID-19 has killed more than 800,000 Americans in two years while the flu typically kills between 12,000 and 52,000 per year.

The exact number of COVID-19-related illnesses and deaths the world will endure is largely a social question, not a scientific one.

We’re not going to get to a point where we’ll be again in 2019, said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior researcher at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. We need to get people to think about tolerance for risk.

Dr Anthony Fauci, America’s foremost infectious disease expert, plans to control the virus in a way that doesn’t disrupt society, that doesn’t disrupt the economy.

Already, the United States is sending signals that it is on its way to what will become the new normal. The Biden administration says there are enough vaccine booster, new treatment, and masking tools to handle even the omicron threat without the shutdowns of the early days of the pandemic.

And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has just reduced the time that people with COVID-19 must stay in isolation to five days so as not to make others sick, saying it has become clear that they are highly contagious. right from the start.

India offers an overview of what it is like to reach a stable level of COVID-19. Until recently, daily reported cases had remained below 10,000 for six months, but only after too traumatic a cost of lives to calculate caused by the anterior delta variant, said Dr T. Jacob John, former chief of virology. at Christian Medical College in South India. .

Omicron is once again fueling an increase in cases, and the country will roll out vaccine boosters for frontline workers in January. But John said other endemic illnesses, such as influenza and measles, periodically cause epidemics, and the coronavirus will continue to flare up from time to time, even after omicron has passed.

Omicron is so mutated that it exceeds part of the protection from vaccinations or from a previous infection. But Dr William Moss of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health expects this virus to somehow maximize its ability to make such big evolutionary leaps. I don’t see this as some kind of endless cycle of new variations.

A possible future that many experts see: in the post-pandemic period, the virus causes colds for some and more serious illnesses for others, depending on their general health, vaccination status and infections earlier. Mutations will continue and may eventually require boosters from time to time which are updated to better match the new variants.

But the human immune system will continue to improve to recognize and fight back. Immunologist Ali Ellebedy of Washington University in St. Louis finds hope in the body’s incredible ability to remember germs it has seen before and to create multi-layered defenses.

Memory B cells are one of those layers, cells that live for years in the bone marrow, ready to kick in and make more antibodies when needed. But first, these memory cells are formed in immune system boot camps called germinal centers, learning to do more than just make copies of their original antibodies.

In a new study, Ellebedy’s team found that Pfizer’s vaccinations stimulate helper T cells that act like drill sergeant in those boot camps, resulting in the production of more diverse and stronger antibodies that can work. even if the virus changes again.

Ellebedy said the basic immunity of the population has improved so much that even if the breakthrough infections inevitably continue, there will be a drop in serious illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths regardless of which variant comes next.

We are not the same population as we were in December 2019, he said. It’s different ground now.

Think of a wildfire tearing apart a forest after a drought, he said. That was in 2020. Now, even with omicron, it’s not completely dry land, but damp enough to make the fire harder to spread.

He’s planning a day when someone gets a coronavirus infection, stays home for two to three days, and then you move on. This will hopefully be the end of the game.

(Only the title and image of this report may have been reworked by Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)


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