Here’s How the Pandemic Finally Ends
|Story Source with images
|The microscopic bundles of RNA, wrapped in spiky proteins, latch on to human cells, hijack them, use them as factories to replicate, and then leave them for dead. It’s a biological blitzkrieg—an invasion so swift and unexpected that the germs are free to jump from host to host with little interference.
Fast forward to the future. Now, when the prickly enemies invade the lungs, they slip past the human cells, unable to take hold. They’re marked for destruction, soon to be surrounded and eliminated. Though some escape through the airways, they confront the same defenses in their next target—if, that is, they can get anywhere near the human cells. There are so few people left to infect that the germs have nowhere to replicate, nowhere to survive.
This is the end of the coronavirus pandemic. And this is how it could happen in the United States: By November 2021, most Americans have received two doses of a vaccine that, while not gloriously effective, fights the disease in more cases than not. Meanwhile, Americans continue to wear masks and avoid large gatherings, and the Covid-19 numbers drop steadily after a series of surges earlier in the year. Eventually, as more and more Americans develop immunity through exposure and vaccination, and as treatments become more effective, Covid-19 recedes into the swarm of ordinary illnesses Americans get every winter.
“It will take two things to bring this virus under control: hygienic measures and a vaccine. And you can’t have one without the other,” says Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center and an attending physician in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
The future laid out above is the likeliest scenario for how the pandemic could end, based on interviews with 11 top-level experts who think about the future of those microscopic SARS-CoV-2 particles every day.
They agree there’s a lot of fog left in the Covid-19 crystal ball, but most accept several likelihoods: At least one effective vaccine—hopefully several—will be approved in the U.S. by early next year. Producing and distributing a vaccine will take months, with the average American not receiving their dose (or doses) until at least mid- or late 2021. And while widespread inoculation will play a large role in bringing life back to normal, getting the shot will not be your cue to take off your mask and run free into a crowded bar. The end of the pandemic will be an evolution, not a revolution, the vaccine just another powerful tool in that process.
In this Tuesday, March 3, 2020 file photo, Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, left, senior research fellow and scientific lead for coronavirus vaccines and immunopathogenesis team in the Viral Pathogenesis Laboratory, talks with President Donald Trump as he tours the Viral Pathogenesis Laboratory at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. Dozens of research groups around the world are racing to create a vaccine as COVID-19 cases continue to grow.
President Donald Trump tours the Viral Pathogenesis Laboratory at the National Institutes of Health in March. Dozens of research groups around the world are racing to create a vaccine as Covid-19 cases continue to grow. | AP Photo/Evan Vucci
That assessment dramatically contrasts with President Donald Trump’s Panglossian certainty that the U.S. has “rounded the corner” in the pandemic, that a vaccine will be ready by Election Day and that every American can get the shot by April. Most importantly, it contradicts the underlying assumption of Trump’s many proclamations: that life will immediately return to normal after a vaccine is administered.
“I don’t see this pandemic ending as in like, you know, ‘This is the day, the pandemic ended,’” says virologist Angela Rasmussen. “I see this as being a process that will go for a long time, potentially even years.”
Experts’ estimates of the timeline vary, but there seems to be some agreement that the virus could be in decline and under control by the second half of 2021, and that society could see pre-Covid “normal” within two years.
“I’ve said November 2021,” predicts Zeke Emanuel, former Obama adviser and chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania. “I think you’ll have enough herd immunity [in the U.S.] that we’ll have an unremitting decline.” Herd immunity is the point at which so many people are immune that the virus can no longer spread widely.
Florian Krammer, professor of vaccinology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, put it this way: “What I think is going to happen at some point in 21 is the virus is basically morphing from a real spread into something that’s in the way and ...