Eradication of Covid-19 was the world’s lofty goal. But with vaccines in short supply, the world must now set more realistic goals.
The virus is mutating at a speed faster than the world is able to vaccinate populations to reach herd immunity. Delta has massively changed the picture. And lockdowns have become unsustainable as well as untenable.
The way out of this pandemic is via the virus becoming endemic.
This means the virus will continue to circulate and infect pockets of the global population for years to come. It will persist in certain geographic areas during certain times. But it will no longer pose a grave threat to global health.
Widespread immunity. Heightened awareness of protective measures. Increased levels of clinical experience. Emerging therapies to halt disease progression. All these can make the virus more predictable and manageable.
But we’re not there yet.
Transmissibility, morbidity and mortality rates still pose risks to our healthcare systems. And while our doctors know more today, there is still much more to learn about how to prevent disease progression and death.
Several other factors determine how and when this pandemic ends.
Immunity levels. What is the strength and duration of immunity whether acquired naturally or through inoculation? Is sterilizing immunity possible?
Virus evolution. Will the virus evolve to evade immune systems, altogether? Can we inoculate most of the vulnerable fast enough to avoid the emergence of more dangerous variants?
Societal changes. Do we have the will to make permanent changes, institutionally and individually? Will policy makers put health and safety first? Will public spaces be designed to stem the spread of disease? Will people sacrifice individual liberties for public good?
Scientific breakthroughs in vaccines and treatments are bound to happen. The world will come to a better understanding of the virus. In the meantime, we need to take steps to prevent infection and save lives.
Just as the remarkably simple use of bed nets in Africa reduced the incidence of malaria, the uncomplicated use of masks can stop the spread of Covid-19. Sexually-transmitted infections continue to plague the world but the use of prophylactics and avoidance of high-risk behaviors can prevent them.
We can’t eradicate Covid-19 like we did smallpox but we can co-exist with it, one day, with relative peace of mind as we do today, with chickenpox, measles, influenza and others. But such a possibility only exists within the realm of our willingness to do whatever it takes to contain the pandemic. Now.
Zero-Covid is not possible. But if we can’t eliminate the virus, we can work to eliminate our fear of it—by changing our behavior.