Is COVID-19 endemic?

key takeaways

  • According to researchers, COVID-19 may become endemic rather than completely eradicated.
  • They predict that COVID-19 will eventually spread in a more predictable manner.
  • But we’re not there yet.

Throughout the pandemic, researchers say it’s unlikely we’ll eradicate COVID-19 entirely. Instead, they stress that the virus is likely to become endemic.

Rather than uncontrolled spread and ever-increasing numbers of cases, they hope, we will reach a point where the spread of COVID-19 is less and less predictable. For example, we generally know what to expect each flu season. But are we in the midst of a COVID-19 pandemic?

Experts say we still have a long way to go.

Will COVID be the new flu?

“Endemic disease is where we can start to really predict what’s going to happen,” Mackenzie Weise, MPH, CIC’s Mackenzie Weise, clinical program manager for infection prevention at Wolters Kluwer Health, told VigorTip. “Right now, it’s very unpredictable. At this point, we don’t know what’s going to happen next week.”

What does endemic mean?

An endemic disease is a disease that is always present in a specific population or geographic area.

“Endemic is pretty much anything that is persistent and/or generally prevalent in a specific population in a specific area, or infectious disease,” Weiss said. “What’s eradicated in the U.S. could still be prevalent in another geographic region around the world.”

Malaria is an example of a disease that is still endemic in many other tropical and subtropical regions, but has eliminated transmission in the United States, she explained.

what it means when a disease is epidemic

Endemic levels of disease do not necessarily imply preferred levels. It would be best if we had no respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), seasonal flu or common cold epidemics at all. But we do.

All of these examples are endemic in the U.S. Although case rates vary from year to year, for the most part, experts know what to expect from these typical seasonal viruses. But even if a disease is endemic, that doesn’t mean it’s less serious.

“Severe disease can still be endemic,” Weather said. For example, cholera, a potentially serious intestinal infection, is endemic in about 50 countries.

Is COVID-19 endemic?

So, have we moved from the crisis phase of the global pandemic to the situation of the COVID-19 epidemic? VigorTip spoke with several experts to find out what they thought.

“Right now, the virus that causes this, SARS-CoV-2, is constantly changing,” Weather said. “It’s genetically unstable. There’s no way to predict what’s going on. It’s far from endemic. To get there, we definitely need more control and more ability to predict possible spread.”

The resounding consensus is that we’re not there yet. However, we may eventually.

“I’ve read a lot of other experts, epidemiologists, public health people talking about this,” Bernadette M. Boden-Albala, PhD, MPH, director and founding dean of the UC Public Health Program, told VigorTip. “And I think we’ll wait with bated breath.”

Most experts are just waiting to see which way COVID-19 takes next.

“I would personally sit on the fence for a while and see how it turns out,” Scott Lillibridge, MD, director of emergency response for the International Medical Corps, told VigorTip.

Is Omicron the Path to Epidemic?

in a study international journal of infectious diseasesthe researchers noted that the Omicron variant, although highly contagious, appeared to cause less severe disease than other variants. The possibility of a less severe outcome has led some experts to suggest that perhaps we are heading towards endemic for COVID-19.

Is Omicron really gentler?

But experts we spoke with said there are many things to consider. First, Omicron is not that serious for everyone. Severity is not necessarily a factor when disease is considered endemic or at baseline. But for infectious diseases, the speed of transmission is really a factor.

A disease is considered stable if the reproduction number is less than 1 (on average, one infected person infects one or no one).

in a study Journal of Medical VirologyDanish researchers estimate that the Omicron’s reproductive rate is 3.19 times that of the Delta variant.

Currently, the Omicron variant is spreading rapidly in the United States. With the post-holiday surge in 2022, the average number of new cases per day is higher than any other wave throughout the pandemic.

In many ways, high transfer rates can be a source of disaster, leading to more unpredictability. “Because it’s spreading so much, whether it’s mild, we’re still somehow developing the ability for the virus to mutate further, get smarter and learn how to thrive,” Weiss said.

Omicron has no ‘minor’ impact on society

Experts also caution against using the word “gentle.” The high number of cases will not have a slight impact on society. In addition, Omicron still has the potential for many people to become seriously ill.

“Of course, on average, Omicron may not be that serious,” World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, MSc, said in a recent news conference. “But the claim that it is a mild illness is misleading, hurts the overall response, and kills many more people. There is no doubt that Omicron is causing hospitalizations and deaths. Even the less severe cases can overwhelm healthcare facilities .”

The high number of Omicron cases overwhelmed the hospital. This has led to staff shortages. Infected healthcare workers had to be quarantined, according to Becker Hospital Reviews.

“It’s still a terrible disease in the unvaccinated,” Bodden-Albarra said. “Even in people who were vaccinated but not boosted, its effects were large.”

Weise added that people who are immunocompromised or have underlying medical conditions may also still face a more severe disease course, especially if they are not vaccinated.

COVID-19 is still taking a huge toll on society, so it is far from stable. “Whether it’s in terms of dying, or in terms of people getting sick, and things like surgeries being rescheduled — all of that will play out more normally,” Boden-Albala said.

When does an epidemic become a pandemic?

“The burden on our healthcare system affects patient care and patient safety across the board, not just with COVID-19,” Weise added. “There are a lot of other patient safety issues and concerns that are on the rise and aren’t getting the attention they deserve because of the COVID-19 response.”

Ultimately, the U.S. and much of the rest of the world remains in crisis mode due to high transmission rates and overwhelmed health care systems.

what does this mean to you

Experts are cautiously optimistic that COVID-19 will eventually become endemic. But the current rate of transmission of COVID-19 is high. To protect yourself from COVID-19, follow the recommendations for full vaccinations and booster shots. Continue to wear masks in public. These efforts mean you are doing your part to help contain the spread.

How will COVID-19 become endemic?

Experts say they remain cautiously optimistic that boosting immunity will help break chains of transmission.

“We hope there will be a downward trend,” explains Boden-Albala. “Between more and more people being boosted, between increasing vaccinations, and between the number of people who have Omicron and Delta — maybe we’re pushing the virus to be endemic.”

“I think we’re trying to make this disease an endemic problem,” Lillibridge added.

Experts we spoke with agreed that continued mitigation efforts are the best path toward a future where we believe COVID-19 is no longer an imminent threat.

“COVID-19 will become endemic if we can in a world where enough people are protected by vaccine-induced immunity,” Weise said. “This will certainly significantly reduce the incidence of serious illness, hospitalizations and deaths, and most certainly overall transmission.”

Boden-Albala stressed that mask wearing, vaccinations and boosting immunizations are the way forward for everyone.

Once we get into the epidemic, then the goal will be to maintain the baseline. One lesson of this pandemic is that we need a more cohesive approach to global public health. “The evidence-based strategies we understand through science to control infectious diseases are only effective if they are standardized and fully implemented by the global health community,” Weise explained.

“We’re going to have to ramp up our infectious disease surveillance,” Lillibridge added. When transmission increases, improved detection measures can help quickly identify outbreaks, often called epidemics. Better surveillance could quickly identify, sort and monitor new variants, tracking their behavior and movement through the crowd, he explained.

Experts have some ideas on what to leave behind on this path forward. “One of the biggest blunders that undermines this work is anyone deciding to follow a conspiracy or ‘internet science,’ rather than listening and giving a chance to experts who have worked for years to protect public health,” Weather said.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means that you may have updated information as you read this article. For the latest updates on COVID-19, visit our Coronavirus news page.