Omicron variant could push disease into endemic status after spreading through population
– We, as a collective, are suffering from “Pandemic burnout.” We are weary and looking for hope on the horizon. Is the end near? And what exactly is the end point for COVID-19? While talks of reaching “herd immunity” have been re-ignited thanks to the less-deadly and highly contagious Omicron variant sweeping quickly through large portions of the population, many disease experts say that COVID-19 becoming “endemic,” and therefore more manageable, is what will allow some degree of normalcy to return to our lives once again.
What’s the difference between an “endemic” and a “pandemic?”
According to the World Health Organization, an “endemic” disease is one that that is consistently present, but limited to a particular area, and one where the spread and case rates are predictable. This is in contrast to the definition of a Pandemic, which is “an outbreak of a disease that occurs over a wide geographic area (such as multiple countries or continents) and typically affects a significant proportion of the population,” according to Merriam Webster.
Spain is now calling for COVID-19 to be treated as an endemic disease, like the flu, becoming the first major European nation to explicitly suggest that people live with it, according to a recent story by Bloomberg. “We have to evaluate the evolution of Covid from pandemic to an endemic illness,” Sanchez said in a radio interview Monday. Lower death rates and lower hospitalization rates due to the Omicron variant have European leaders discussing a “re-evaluation of government strategies on dealing with the virus.”
COVID-19 is likely here to stay
COVID-19 is most likely here to stay, but the virus will continue to mutate, probably (and hopefully) into increasingly less deadly – and also possibly more vaccine and immunity resistant – variants. But we should expect to see less deaths from the disease and the virus should be less widespread, according to disease experts.
“It will stay with us and we will see cases, people that will get very severely sick, but not as widespread as we see it now,“ said Dr. Paula Eckardt, chief of infectious disease at Memorial Healthcare System in a recent story for NBC Miami.
The widely-touted idea of “herd immunity” is a goal that will likely not ever be reached, Eckardt asserts. “We still get some cellular defense cells that will help us out but I don’t know for sure it will be enough to create the herd immunity we’re always talking about,” said Eckardt for NBC, “…you’re forgetting how this particular virus operates. How quickly it mutates when it’s spreading at these rates, and over time as you lose the immunity.”
Many infectious disease specialists say they see COVID-19 approaching an ‘endemic’ stage after Omicron works its way through the population.
Stephen Kissler, an infectious disease expert from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, recently was quoted in a recent story by MSN Health that while we’re not at the point of an endemic yet with the Omicron variant, he does “believe the COVID-19 will reach the stage of an endemic ‘much like the flu is endemic.’”
Kissler said he believes the endemic period will happen when dealing with COVID-19 becomes “some sort of acceptable state.” What defines an “acceptable state” however, is apparently still up for debate.
Immunologist Ali Ellebedy at Washington University in St. Louis was quoted by MSN saying that he believes a day will come in the future when someone who gets infected with COVID-19 only has to stay home for a couple of days “and then you move on. That hopefully will be the endgame.”
Ultimately, the pandemic will not be officially declared “over” until the World Health Organization decides enough countries “have a handle on COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths,” says the MSN article, “However, it is unclear when that will be.”
-Skye Pratt for A Voice For Choice Advocacy