COVID-19 will likely never be eliminated and might become as common as the flu.
This assessment of an endemic COVID-19 was made by Dr. Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser to the Government of the United Kingdom. It's the latest predicting the same outcome from renowned experts that have studied the disease. Vallance pointed out smallpox has been the one and only human disease "truly eradicated" due to a highly effective vaccine.
COVID-19 won't follow this path because none of the COVID-19 vaccines now under development can eradicate severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
"The notion of eliminating COVID from anywhere is not right, because it will come back," he said.
"We can't be certain, but I think it's unlikely we will end up with a truly sterilizing vaccine, (that is) something that completely stops infection, and it's likely this disease will circulate and be endemic, that's my best assessment."
Vallance told the National Security Strategy Committee in London this week that as management of COVID-19 becomes better"...this then starts to look more like annual flu than anything else, and that may be the direction we end up going."
He noted this outcome will also be due to vaccines that decrease the chance of infection and the severity of disease.
Vallance's statement echoes those from leading medical experts around the world over the past few months. In May, Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of health emergencies for the World Health Organization (WHO), warned the world the pandemic could become another endemic disease that may never go away. Dr. Ryan compared SARS-CoV-2 with HIV, saying it may become a part of our communities and may stay here forever.
Ryan also warned SARS-CoV-2 will be impossible for anyone to predict when or if this disease will ever disappear.
Epidemiologist Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) was equally as blunt, saying SARS-CoV-2 may stay here forever. He recognized the COVID-19 would become a pandemic as early as January.
He expects SARS-CoV-2 to be present for the rest of his life. He also doesn't believe the wave theory (a first wave, a lull, followed by a second and other waves) applies to this pandemic.
"That's not what's happening here," he said.
"There's no evidence there's going to be a decrease in cases, a trough," said Osterholm in August. "It's just going to keep burning hot, kind of like a forest fire looking for human wood to burn."
Osterholm argues COVID-19 is more like "one long-term fire." He said the world is in the middle of "a fast burn scenario with peaks and valleys in different locations at different times."
He pointed out this forest fire will keep blazing because it has "human wood" it can burn. He said the disease will keep burning, or infecting, people as long as it can burn human wood.