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Coronavirus may become endemic, even with a vaccine

The Washington Post reports:

There’s a good chance the coronavirus will never go away.

Even after a vaccine is discovered and deployed, the coronavirus will likely remain for decades to come, circulating among the world’s population.

Experts call such diseases endemic — stubbornly resisting efforts to stamp them out. Think measles, HIV, chickenpox.

It is a daunting proposition — a coronavirus-tinged world without a foreseeable end. But experts in epidemiology, disaster planning and vaccine development say embracing that reality is crucial to the next phase of America’s pandemic response. The long-term nature of covid-19, they say, should serve as a call to arms for the public, a road map for the trillions of dollars Congress is spending and a fixed navigational point for the nation’s current, chaotic state-by-state patchwork strategy.

With so much else uncertain, the persistence of the novel virus is one of the few things we can count on about the future. That doesn’t mean the situation will always be as dire. There are already four endemic coronaviruses that circulate continuously, causing the common cold. And many experts think this virus will become the fifth — its effects growing milder as immunity spreads and our bodies adapt to it over time.

For now, though, most people have not been infected and remain susceptible. And the highly transmissible disease has surged in recent weeks, even in countries that initially succeeded in suppressing it. Left alone, experts say, it will simply keep burning through the world’s population.

“This virus is here to stay,” said Sarah Cobey, an epidemiologist and evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago. “The question is, how do we live with it safely?”

Combating endemic diseases requires long-range thinking, sustained effort and international coordination. Stamping out the virus could take decades — if it happens at all. Such efforts take time, money and, most of all, political will. [Continue reading…]

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