Humanity has been unsuccessfully fighting the coronavirus pandemic for more than a year and a half. During this time, at an accelerated pace, it was possible not only to create vaccines, but also to begin to vaccinate people en masse. However, the situation has not yet been drastically influenced by this. With the advent of the new Delta strain, the virus has become even more contagious and dangerous. This time, a large-scale tragedy has come to Russia. More than 700 people die from COVID-19 in the country every day, while we are periodically told the sad news that the anti-record has been renewed again. Scientists, meanwhile, are working to create a drug that could ease the course of the disease and reduce the number of deaths, but a breakthrough in this area is still not visible. In this situation, everyone probably wondered what awaits us next? When and how will the pandemic end? Even among the scientific community there is no unambiguous answer to the questions posed. This is not surprising, because the further development of events depends on many factors. However, it is quite possible to get at least a rough understanding of what awaits us now. To do this, you need to familiarize yourself with the history of previous pandemics that have already occurred more than once.
How do diseases go?
Can we ever forget about coronavirus forever? In the history of mankind, there were only two diseases that were completely eradicated - smallpox and rinderpest. The first disease was very life-threatening, as it killed about a third of those infected. The bodies of the diseased were covered with painful blisters, while the virus infected the organs, which led to death. The last victim of this disease in 1978 was 40-year-old British woman Janet Parker.
Rinderpest is a viral disease that has affected cows and some other artiodactyls. Her last case was recorded in 2001 in Kenya. Both of these pandemics have been stopped by intensive and global vaccination campaigns. But it is not worth hoping that COVID-19 will be completely defeated in the same way.
It looked like an infected with Smallpox, a disease that we forgot about
Joshua Epstein, professor of epidemiology at New York University's School of Global Public Health, argues that eradicating a disease is extremely rare, so much so that it should be erased from our dictionary of diseases altogether. Viruses retreat or mutate, but literally they do not disappear from the global biome.
Most of the viruses that caused past pandemics are still with us. Between 2010 and 2015, more than 3,000 people contracted the bacteria that cause both bubonic and pneumonic plague, according to WHO. And the virus behind the 1918 flu pandemic, which ravaged the globe and killed at least 50 million people, eventually evolved into less deadly variants of the flu. Its descendants evolved into seasonal flu strains that periodically attack various parts of the planet to this day.
As with the 1918 flu, the SARS-CoV-2 virus is likely to continue to mutate. The human immune system will eventually adapt and will be able to resist the disease itself, but this will only happen after many people get sick and die. Therefore, obtaining herd immunity is clearly not what humanity should now strive for. Saad Omer, an epidemiologist and director of Yale University, says this.
Experts believe that the only safest way is to find ways to slow the spread of the disease and deal with its consequences. Today, for example, pest control and advanced hygiene are curbing the plague epidemic, and modern medicine can treat any new cases with antibiotics.
Will vaccines save the world from coronavirus?
In the fight against coronavirus, scientists have opted for vaccines. But how quickly can vaccinations stop the pandemic? To date, only 28 percent of the world's population has received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Vaccine distribution remains highly uneven. In the European Union, almost three quarters of the population eligible for vaccination are at least partially vaccinated. In the United States, 68 percent of people 12 and older are vaccinated. In Russia, 26.7% of the population received at least one dose of vaccines.
In other countries, vaccinations are much slower. Among the outsiders are Indonesia, India, as well as many African countries. However, even if in the near future it will be possible to quickly vaccinate the entire population of the world, there is no 100% guarantee that this will stop the pandemic.
Vaccination may not save against newer, more aggressive strains of coronavirus
As we can see, new variants of the virus are emerging that are not only more infectious, but also better escape the immune system. Delta is currently the most dangerous mutation ever discovered. It affects people who have received even two doses of the vaccine. Initial research suggests that the Lambda strain may also be resistant to some vaccines.
In fact, the ability of the virus to quickly mutate can diminish all hopes for vaccination altogether. According to scientists, new strains will appear on earth every 6 months. In this case, the pandemic can be delayed for a long time.
“Sometimes we take two steps forward and one step back,” says Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.
How the coronavirus pandemic will end
One of the possible and most probable scenarios is that society itself will try to declare the end of the pandemic even before science does it. That is, people will simply accept the grave consequences of illness and even death. This has often happened with past pandemics.
For example, influenza is no longer considered a pandemic, but is endemic. At the same time, from 280 to 600 thousand people die annually from this disease in the world. Of course, for such a development of events, humanity must learn to at least partially keep the disease under control and not allow the scale that we are seeing now.
The pandemic will end sooner or later, but the coronavirus will remain with us forever like the seasonal flu virus
“If we can bring the death toll to a certain level and return to normalcy, the pandemic can be said to be over,” says Jagpreet Chhatwal, a decision maker at Massachusetts General Hospital and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School.
When the global spread of a disease is brought under control in a certain area, it ceases to be a pandemic and becomes an epidemic. That is, when COVID-19 persists globally at what the WHO believes is "expected or normal," the organization will call the disease "endemic." In this case, it will be possible to say that the pandemic is over. However, the coronavirus itself, apparently, will remain with us forever.