WASHINGTON: Even after a COVID-19 vaccine is developed and deployed, the coronavirus will likely remain for years to come, and may eventually, become endemic like HIV, measles and chickenpox, The Washington Post reported.
According to the US daily, experts in epidemiology say embracing the prolonged stay of COVID-19 is crucial to the next phase of the US's coronavirus pandemic response.
Experts say that amid all the uncertainty revolving around the contagion, the persistence of the novel virus is one of the few things we can count on about the future.
There are four endemic coronaviruses that are present, causing the common cold. And many experts believe that COVID-19 will become the fifth.
As things stand, most people have not been infected and remain susceptible to the infection.
"This virus is here to stay," Sarah Cobey, an epidemiologist and evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago was quoted as saying by Post. "The question is, how do we live with it safely?"
According to the experts, combating endemic diseases requires sustained effort and political will across the board.
As the world has only started to get used to the idea of the pandemic, some states are rushing headlong into reopening their economies.
"It's like we have attention-deficit disorder right now. Everything we're doing is just a knee-jerk response to the short-term," said Tom Frieden, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"People keep asking me, 'What's the one thing we have to do?' The one thing we have to do is to understand that there is not one thing. We need a comprehensive battle strategy, meticulously implemented."
Meanwhile, the US along with other countries is yearning for a quick-fix vaccine, which is being portrayed as an all-out solution of the infection. However, the world has achieved that only once, with smallpox and that too at the cost of millions of lives spanning across two centuries.
As things are heading, many experts believe this COVID-19 could become relatively benign, causing milder infections as our immune systems develop a memory of responses to the virus. However, that process could take a long time, said Andrew Noymer, a University of California at Irvine epidemiologist.
Barney Graham, deputy director of the federal government's Vaccine Research Center, said emerging plans for vaccination are already stretching as far out as 10 years.
"We had a discussion this morning about what can be ready before this winter of 2021, what could be ready for 2021-2022, and what kind of regimen or vaccine concepts would we want after this has settled into a more seasonal virus."
According to the Post, in the first few years of a vaccine, global demand will far outstrip the supply. Without cooperation among the international community, the short supply could devolve into hoarding and ineffective vaccination campaigns.
"We also assume that everyone will want the vaccine because of the devastation this virus has caused, but that's a big assumption," said Howard Koh, a top US health official during the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic.
Additionally, the experts believe that people won't make the shift toward long-range thinking up till the infection spreads more widely and affects someone they know.
"It is like people who drive too fast. They come upon the scene of an accident, and for a little while, they drive more carefully, but soon they are back to speeding again," said Michael T. Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.
"Contrast that with people who have lost someone to drunk driving," he said. "It mobilizes them and becomes a cause for them.
Osterholm continued saying that everyone is eventually going to know someone who got infected or died from it and "that's what it may take."