COVID Forever? Will Coronavirus Variants Still Be Around In 100 Years?

July 28, 2022
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Is humanity facing COVID ‘forever’? 

Nothing is for certain, especially with how some variants manage to escape immunity from vaccines or a previous COVID-19 infection. However, health professionals are not optimistic.

“The COVID virus is going to be with us forever,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, White House pandemic response coordinator in an interview with Face The Nation. “It’s really important that people build up their immunity against this virus as soon as possible.”

This also isn’t the first time we’ve heard medical experts talk about the long-term dangers of this virus. Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel also said that there is no clear timetable for when the virus will completely subside. 

Most people develop immunity from vaccination, prior infection, or even both. Globally, defenses against the COVID-19 virus are obviously stronger now than a couple of years ago. However, we still see cases continue to rise. 

Some say this is due to Omicron’s sub-variants escaping immunity, while others claim it’s because more people are neglecting safety protocols. 

Now experts have uncovered new data that suggests a link between today’s seasonal influenza and the devastating 1918 Spanish Flu. If this turns out to be the case, it’s a sobering reminder that some viruses may simply take on different forms rather than ever going away.

The 1918 Spanish Flu

More than 100 years ago, another global virus cost the lives of millions of people around the world. It came in waves and found different ways to replicate. In fact, the only reason that pandemic ended was that the most susceptible to the disease had died and everyone else developed immunity.

“The end of the pandemic occurred because the virus circulated around the globe, infecting enough people that the population no longer had enough susceptible people for the strain to become a pandemic again,” medical historian J. Alexander Navarro told Time Magazine. “When you get enough people who get immunity, the infection will slowly die out because it’s harder for the virus to find new susceptible hosts.”

This led scientists to analyze samples from the 1918 pandemic to find any links as to how pandemics developed. While more samples are needed and with research still ongoing, the following analyses of the Spanish Flu have been made:

  • The samples included two changes in the viral nucleoprotein
  • Different waves of the virus were caused by the same variant
  • Most of the genetic differences were in the polymerase genes (a gene that controls the replication of the virus)
  • Eight segments of RNA that make up the seasonal influenza virus’ genome could have directly descended from the pandemic virus

“Studies about the Spanish Flu are still a mystery since there are so many unanswered questions,” said Dr. Thorsten Wolff, co-author of the study published in Nature Communications.

Is there any relation between the Spanish Flu and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic?

No. But if studies confirm a link between the Spanish Flu and seasonal influenza, we could see the COVID-19 virus move in the same direction. 

The flu is still a deadly virus. In fact, the global average death toll for seasonal influenza is estimated at anything from 290,000 to 650,000. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), these figures relate to respiratory diseases alone, not taking into account deaths from other diseases such as cardiovascular disease, which can be influenza-related.

For now, there does not appear to be an end to the COVID-19 pandemic in sight. What we can do is to help control its spread by following well-documented safety precautions. 

How long will COVID-19 stay in the US?

Similar to how the Spanish Flu came in waves for years, the COVID-19 virus could be in our lives for a very long time to come. Is it too pessimistic to proclaim a reality of ‘COVID forever’?

While there was a period when COVID-19 cases were at their lowest, the rise of Omicron has delayed any end to the pandemic.

To make matters worse, Omicron sub-variants are known to re-infect persons who have recently recovered from another sub-branch to Omicron. 

According to some estimates, 100 million COVID-19 infections could occur in the United States alone this fall and winter. 

As of this writing, no changes to any government mandates have been made. The Biden Administration is offering little push-back to a decision to invalidate a federal law requiring masks on trains and flights. 

This attitude is partly due to an undeniable decline in the most severe effects of COVID-19. Vaccines continue to protect against life-threatening illnesses even while new variations lead to more breakthrough infections. However, while there have been less hospitalizations, the long term harms to health of the latest variants remain unknown.

Expert opinion

Doctors frequently categorize the disease as acute, subacute, or chronic. An acute COVID-19 infection is when a patient has excruciating chest pain or an alarming EKG. Acute cases may even require different medications and a team of medical professionals to clear any blocked blood vessels.

Subacute diseases can be dangerous in their own right. However, when properly managed, mitigation is possible, but they can also become out of control if left unattended.

Chronic cases are those that linger, developing slowly and potentially worsening over an extended time period. How things go on this score is anyone’s guess as it’s early days yet.

Bottom line

Does this mean we’ll have to wear masks for the rest of our lives? Will we have to submit to endless rounds of booster shots, bracing for COVID forever? A world with no end to the COVID-19 virus is a frightening prospect. Simply put, the entire world is not prepared for COVID-19 to become an endemic disease. 

Pandemic fatigue and extremely contagious varieties that bypass immunity could doom humanity to sporadic surges for a long time. 

While a few measures are available to society for containing such a contagious virus, we must abandon the notion that we can completely avoid getting infected or reinfected by the virus.

By keeping up to date with your vaccines and staying as healthy as possible, you can help ease the effects of COVID-19. If you start to experience symptoms of COVID-19, get yourself tested immediately. 

COVID-19 testing kits are available for purchase online and can be delivered right to your doorstep.

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