When will Coronavirus End?
Coronavirus continues to baffle humanity as our everyday life has been upended with coronavirus infections, cases, and deaths, but the hope is refreshed with coronavirus vaccines against the deadliest pandemic of the 21st century. Still, everyone asks for the silver bullet: when will the coronavirus end?
Every year, millions of people die from a few infectious diseases that spread across the globe. Such common epidemics are called pandemics. But apparently, none of these diseases rages forever or continuously. The hope is that the coronavirus pandemic will also end in the foreseeable future.
How does a pandemic end?
A pandemic ends when the number of sick people drops sharply as a large part of the population survives the disease and develops immunity. Also, the vaccination of a certain proportion breaks the pathogen's infection chains, the disease cannot spread any further, and we speak of the "herd immunity."
However, some pandemics, including that of the Spanish flu, which began to spread in 1918, never really ended. The virus has mutated into a less aggressive form so that the pandemic influenza turned into "normal" flu and eventually subsided with fewer casualties.
There is still no vaccination against certain infectious diseases spreading around the world. People have to live with them. These include the immune deficiency disease AIDS, listed as an independent disease since 1981. Over 35 million have died due to infection with the HI virus, and almost 40 million people were considered infected in 2019. AIDS is one of the largest pandemics in human history.
In Central Europe, however, the disease has become rarer and can often be treated well with new drugs, even if not cured. For instance, Bremen saw recorded 1,400-1,700 people with the HI virus at the end of 2019, according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI).
When will Coronavirus End according to WHO?
The World Health Organization (WHO) opines that the coronavirus pandemic will end faster the more people are vaccinated against the virus as soon as possible. Although the official WHO announcement shies away from citing an exact figure to end the coronavirus pandemic, WHO's Chief Scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, refers to 60-70 percent in an interview in August 2020.
But not all experts agree on this point. Heidrun Grid, President of the Bremen Medical Association, recently emphasized a coronavirus vaccination rate of over 70 percent to be necessary so that society can return to everyday life.
What is the determinant of how many people need to be vaccinated to determine when will coronavirus end?
How contagious the disease is. The infectiousness of a pathogen is expressed in the number of reproductions, the so-called R-zero value. Using the measles virus as an example, Hajo Zeeb from the Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology at the University of Bremen explains: "With measles, one person in a hypothetical, non-vaccinated population would infect around 16 people." To prevent the spread of measles, 95 percent of the population would have to be vaccinated against the pathogen. If this value is not reached, there will be new outbreaks of measles, as happened in Germany last year.
In the case of coronavirus, it looks a little different. "We do not yet exactly know the R-zero value of Covid-19," said Zeeb. But assume that one person in a hypothetical, unvaccinated population would infect around three to four others. That applies at least to the form of the virus that is widespread in Germany.
From this value, one can deduce that 60 to 70 percent of the population would have to be vaccinated against Covid-19 to contain the disease. It could also help that as the pandemic progressed, more and more people became infected with the virus and developed an immunity. Multiple infections with the corona virus are possible, but not the rule, according to Zeeb. Smallpox could finally be eradicated with massive global vaccinations in the 1960s and 1970s.
Can coronavirus also be eradicated completely?
Probably not. According to the Robert Koch Institute, it has only ever been possible to eradicate one infectious disease worldwide through vaccination: Smallpox has been considered extinct since 1978. In the 1960s, around two million people were infected with smallpox, 30 percent of whom died. The World Health Organization is currently trying to eliminate measles and rubella worldwide through vaccinations.
In the case of coronavirus, however, this is not a realistic goal: unlike smallpox, which only affects humans, coronaviruses can have animal hosts. You could, therefore, switch from animals to humans at any time. The Bremen epidemiologist Hajo Zeeb assumes "that Covid-19 will join in the long term the ranks of known pathogens that break out again and again". However, as immunity increases in the population, the virus will hopefully become less important.
Why was the coronavirus able to spread so far at all?
From Hajo Zeeb's point of view, the decisive factor for the rapid spread of Covid-19 is that one can be infected with the virus without noticing it and, therefore, unknowingly transmit it. At this point, Covid-19 differs significantly from the first SARS virus, which caused a stir in the world in 2002 and 2003: This virus was only particularly contagious about ten days after the first symptoms appeared. It was easier to identify and isolate the sick and ultimately get the epidemic under control.
But also the variable, sometimes severe, sometimes milder course of the Covid-19 infection favors the spread of the disease, believes Hajo Zeeb: "Other serious epidemics kill their hosts and therefore do not spread worldwide." The global influenza pandemic killed at least 25 million people between 1918 and 1920.
What also distinguishes the coronavirus pandemic from other pandemics?
At least in the recent past, there has been no pandemic with a comparably high number of infected and dead people in such a short time. How the pandemic has spread is not unusual, thinks Hajo Zeeb.
He refers to the swine flu, which was rampant from 2009, the Hong Kong flu from the late 1960s, and above all, the Spanish flu, which raged from the end of the First World War and claimed 20-50 million lives, 300,000 in Germany alone. "The Spanish flu has also spread particularly rapidly where many people lived together," said Zeeb, describing the crucial analogy to the coronavirus pandemic.
Public and private organizations have developed a dozen coronavirus vaccines currently being approved worldwide, although there are issues concerning their administration. But regardless of whether they are mRNA or vector vaccines, they provide only a limited answer to the question about the end of the pandemic as the countries worldwide come to a dead end with the herd community. Yet.
There are many arguments against the eradication of Covid-19
The vaccination campaign against smallpox in the late 1960s turned out to be an exemplary success story. The World Health Organization (WHO) measures led to a complete disappearance of the virus for a good 40 years. In contrast to smallpox, however, the coronavirus pandemic presents several reasons against a complete eradication scenario. Smallpox was only transmitted from human to human, whereas coronavirus can also have live on intermediate animal hosts.
Herd immunity would calm the situation
The end of the frenzy regarding who will get how many vaccines will give way to the goal of building a so-called herd immunity in the entire global population. Although WHO said that it would not be possible in 2021, as covered by a CNN report, the measure should initially calm down and stabilize the situation. Also, it has not yet been conclusively proven how stable coronavirus is in terms of mutations as sporadic developments worry governments with various strains from the world. How long one is considered immune after illness or vaccination despite the recent announcements by vaccine companies that their vaccine can prove effective for 1-2 years. Another scientific challenge whether the vaccinated people could pass on the virus unnoticed.
In summary, the medical perspective can be described as follows: Even if the pathogen cannot be eradicated entirely, one can hope to contain the virus at least through constantly adapted vaccines and a largely immunized population.
Another scenario: a perceived "social end" to the pandemic
From a non-medical point of view, another scenario is conceivable: One speaks of a so-called "social end" of the pandemic when coronavirus is no longer perceived as a threat to society despite the continued rampant epidemic as in the case of the HI virus. AIDS is still p