In an interview on air On 60 minutespresident joe biden announced that the pandemic is over in the US “We still have a problem with COVID,” Biden said, “but the pandemic is over.”
Although the comment seems somewhat controversial, it captures the ongoing struggle among specialists to determine where we are with the current COVID-19 a pandemic. In other words, scientists just can’t agree on whether the pandemic was a problem of the past or ongoing cases show that the pandemic is far from over.
The crux of the problem is that—despite what we want—diseases are hard to eliminate, and pandemics don’t end decisively. They rarely end with a complete disappearance of the disease. Instead, they usually end when the disease becomes “endemic,” moving into yet another stage of activity—albeit with a more stable and manageable case rate.
So what exactly does it mean when a pandemic disease becomes endemic, and will COVID-19 ever survive the change?
Distinguish between endemic, epidemic and pandemic diseases
It makes sense to start with the basics. Scientists who study the development and spread of diseases tend to describe diseases according to their prevalence in particular populations. And according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)three of the leading descriptors include the terms ‘endemic’, ‘epidemic’ and ‘pandemic’.
For starters, scientists apply the term “endemic” when a disease maintains a constant presence in a certain area and appears at a relatively predictable rate. Although this is not necessarily the ideal or desired occurrence of the disease—which may not occur at all—this condition is what scientists consider stable and manageable. Essentially endemic diseases are still active and still represent a threat to individual patientsbut they rarely grow in surprising ways or cause significant disruption to the daily activities of a community.
Alternatively, specialists use the terms “epidemic” and “pandemic” after a sharp and sudden increase in disease beyond what scientists would normally expect. While “epidemics” affect a specific area, such as a single country or country, “pandemics” are much more widespread, spanning the population and affecting several countries or continents at once.
The widespread impact of COVID-19 has maintained the pandemic status of the virus ever since March 2020, but that doesn’t mean that COVID-19 will remain a pandemic forever. In fact, viruses can switch from state to state thanks to circumstances such as the emergence of new variants or the development of new vaccines. So even if some diseases cannot be completely eradicated, they can transition from a pandemic stage to an endemic stage with the right treatment.
The trick, scientists say, is increasing immunity on a large scale. This stabilizes the occurrence of the disease, pushing it towards endemic status. In the case of COVID-19, increasing exposure to the virus through options such as omicron and increase the use of vaccines means that more and more people are gaining some amount of immunity to COVID-19 in the US with that immunity swellingscientists predict that the virus will spread in increasingly robust ways.
When will COVID-19 become endemic?
So when exactly does a disease become endemic, and will COVID-19 ever secure that status? Because what scientists see as “stable” differs depending on the disease and the population it affects, endemicity is best determined after stabilization has already occurred. Simply put, there is no clear scientific consensus for determining whether or not COVID-19 is currently endemic.
Because of this, some scientists argue that the virus has already lost its pandemic label. In an an interview as of April, for example, Biden’s chief medical adviser, Anthony Fauci, said the U.S. was already moving “out of the pandemic phase.” Still, others say the transformation will take a little longer, with a paper from July, stating that the average time for change to occur is 1,437 days after the start of the pandemic, more than a year away.
Although it is probably still too early to tell, the bottom line is that the majority of experts believe that COVID-19 will change its pandemic status to endemic status eventuallywhich becomes easier to prevent and treat as a result of trade.
In fact, many experts share relatively similar ideas about what the endemicity of COVID-19 will look like. Once the virus achieves endemic status, they say, it is likely to act like other common endemic conditions, becoming a permanent or seasonal disease that is far more of a nuisance or annoyance than a real danger to the vast majority of sufferers. “People will still get infected,” Fauci said in a statement an interview last November. “People can still be hospitalized, but the level will be so low that we [wouldn’t] think about it all the time and it [wouldn’t] affects what we do.”
Of course, continued vigilance will be required to prevent the outbreak of another COVID-19 pandemic, and vaccines and vaccine boosters will remain paramount. But while the virus isn’t going away anytime soon, the bottom line is that the disease is likely to transition to a more stable, less destructive state — that is, if it hasn’t already.