The World Health Organization has advised that while the COVID-19 pandemic has been relentless, it’s “not necessarily the big one.”
The Guardian reports that experts also said we’ll have to learn to live with the virus and that COVID’s “destiny” is to become endemic, even though vaccines are now being distributed in the U.S and U.K., according to Professor David Heymann, the chair of the WHO’s strategic and technical advisory group for infectious hazards.
“The world has hoped for herd immunity, that somehow transmission would be decreased if enough persons were immune,” he said. He also said that the world's understanding of herd immunity has been misinterpreted.
“It appears the destiny of SARS-CoV-2 [Covid-19] is to become endemic, as have four other human coronaviruses, and that it will continue to mutate as it reproduces in human cells, especially in areas of more intense admission.” He continued, “Fortunately, we have tools to save lives, and these in combination with good public health will permit us to learn to live with Covid-19.”
Dr. Mark Ryan, head of the WHO emergencies program, said, “The likely scenario is the virus will become another endemic virus that will remain somewhat of a threat, but a very low-level threat in the context of an effective global vaccination program.”
He added, “It remains to be seen how well the vaccines are taken up, how close we get to a coverage level that might allow us the opportunity to go for elimination. The existence of a vaccine, even at high efficacy, is no guarantee of eliminating or eradicating an infectious disease. That is a very high bar for us to be able to get over.”
While the vaccine’s aim is to save lives and protect those who are susceptible, Ryan said the next pandemic may be worse. “This pandemic has been very severe…it has affected every corner of this planet. But this is not necessarily the big one,” he said, calling COVID-19 “a wake-up call.”
Preventative measures like the vaccine also don’t mean social distancing shouldn’t be practiced in the future. The vaccine’s efficacy remains to be seen, with questions looming about if it will decrease the infection rate or stop transmission of the virus.