Will We Ever Get Rid of COVID-19?

Asia's Tech News Daily

No matter how much we’d like to eradicate SARS-CoV-2, it may be better to settle for other forms of control.

Will We Ever Get Rid of COVID-19?

Maggie Chiang for Quanta Magazine

As the end of the year approaches, we are nearing the two-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic. Globally, over 5 million have died, and that’s almost certainly an undercount, especially in countries that still lack the resources to properly test and vaccinate their populations. The U.S. has reported more than 750,000 COVID-19 deaths, and we’ve seen four surges of cases since early 2020, hoping that each would be our last. Just last week, scientists detected a heavily mutated new variant, Omicron, which may end up leading to another rush of cases — or have no lasting effects. We still don’t know enough to tell.

Everyone is ready for the pandemic to be over, but it’s still unclear what that would look like. How likely are we to eradicate the virus? What would that really mean, and what will the world look like if we can’t? 

While there is much we still don’t know about SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, we have learned enough to answer some of these questions. 

Can we eradicate COVID-19? 

Some people think so. Advocates of a campaign to eradicate the virus cite the high costs of an endemic SARS-CoV-2 virus, both in terms of health and as an ongoing economic issue. To date, over 250 million infections have been confirmed globally with over 5 million deaths, and absent any intervention, economists have estimated that COVID-19 infections would cost the U.S. $1.4 trillion by 2030. Even with the vaccines, COVID-19 will still be exceedingly costly in the coming years on multiple fronts.  

And it’s true that once a pathogen is eradicated, mitigation measures can be reduced or eliminated. We no longer vaccinate the general public for smallpox (though we do maintain a military smallpox vaccination program due to the potential for bioterrorism). One medical journal has suggested that eradication of SARS-CoV-2 should not be ruled out, and that it could be about as challenging as our ongoing polio eradication efforts

I disagree. The epidemiology of the virus makes eradication unlikely. Investing in a campaign to do so would be a misuse of limited resources, and the failure of a high-profile eradication campaign could make other levels of control more difficult.

What’s the difference between eradication, extinction and elimination of a virus?

Eradication means that the virus is completely extinguished in nature. We’ve actually achieved this with smallpox in humans and rinderpest in animals. Extinction goes further and includes the destruction of any samples in laboratory stocks as well. This has not yet happened for any pathogen, for many reasons that are primarily political rather than scientific: above all, the mutual distrust between the U.S. and Russia, who each hold remaining stocks of the virus.

Eradication is sometimes confused with elimination. While eradication refers to the global extermination of the virus (except in labs), elimination refers to a more limited form of control, where new infections within particular countries are reduced to zero. In the U.S., we have done this with other viruses including the ones causing measles, rubella (German measles) and polio. While we have had recent outbreaks of measles, the original cases for each outbreak came from an outside source — generally a traveler who was infected abroad before going to an area where measles remains endemic. 

Maintaining elimination is difficult. The U.S., which eliminated measles, almost lost that status due to a 2019 epidemic that sent cases surging globally (primarily because of outbreaks among the unvaccinated). 

What makes COVID-19 so resistant to eradication?

A candidate for eradication will typically possess three qualities: an effective intervention that can stop transmission, readily available diagnostic tools that can rapidly detect infection, and a lack of the disease among nonhuman animals. COVID-19 fails on all three counts. 

We think approximately 35% of COVID-19 infections are asymptomatic. That complicates control of spread and diagnosis. For every symptomatic case, many other infections have almost certainly occurred that went unnoticed. To find them, we would need to build up extensive surveillance programs (as we’ve done in the campaign to eradicate polio), examining human cases as well as samples of sewage to determine if the virus is circulating in a community. It’s hard to interrupt transmission if you don’t even know the disease is there. 

And even for symptomatic cases, diagnosis is fraught. Unlike smallpox, which had very distinct symptoms that could readily distinguish it from other rash-causing viruses, COVID-19 causes symptoms that can be similar in presentation to those of influenza and other respiratory viruses, meaning rapid, accurate, widespread and affordable testing are critical to confirm cases.   

Finally, the disease is currently circulating among multiple species of animals besides humans, with no end in sight.

What do other animals have to do with our eradication efforts?

Smallpox, measles and polio are all caused by human-specific viruses; they do not infect other animals, and so they’re easier targets for eradication. SARS-CoV-2, by contrast, is a zoonotic pathogen that originated from an as-yet-unknown species, probably a bat. This means there is already a nonhuman reservoir of the virus in nature. Following its spread to humans, researchers have identified SARS-CoV-2 in many other animal species, including ferrets, otters, white-tailed deer, gorillas, mink and more

These animal infections complicate eradication efforts, because there will always be sources of the virus that could reintroduce it into humans. Animal-to-human transmission may be infrequent (though mink-to-human transmission has already been documented), but it only takes a single event to bring the virus back into an area where it has been eliminated. Each new chain of transmission needs to be stopped if eradication or elimination is the long-term goal.

What about vaccines? 

Vaccines have been a great method of interrupting transmission, but the current vaccines for COVID-19 simply aren’t as effective as vaccines for smallpox, measles and polio. COVID-19 vaccines reduce transmission if vaccinated individuals are infected, but they do not completely eliminate it. Again, this makes eradication much more challenging.

An additional issue is variants. The viruses that cause measles, smallpox and polio have less genetic diversity, so variants can generally be neutralized by vaccine-induced immunity. With SARS-CoV-2, we’re not yet sure how much of an impact variants will have, but it is at least theoretically possible that a variant will emerge that can completely escape the immunity brought on by vaccination or previous infection. (Tests are currently underway with the Omicron variant to determine if it has the ability to escape from antibodies generated against prior variants.) Mutations in the virus’s spike protein, which binds to the host’s cells and is what the immune system recognizes, could result in changes to the protein’s amino acid sequence. If these changes hit in the right places, they could alter the protein to such a degree that our antibodies will bind to it less tightly or no longer recognize the protein.  

There’s also the issue of waning immunity over time. Vaccination for polio, smallpox and measles results in long-term, potentially lifelong, immunity. With coronaviruses in general, we know that immunity can wane rapidly, leaving individuals susceptible to reinfection. We are already witnessing this now with SARS-CoV-2, in both vaccinated and previously infected individuals. 

The solution to these issues is simply additional vaccinations, but that requires a regular, global vaccine campaign that would have to surpass vaccination efforts in 2021, which themselves only came about with emergency funding and have still left many unvaccinated, either because they declined the vaccine or because it’s not yet available to them. 

Are there other reasons to be skeptical about SARS-CoV-2 eradication? 

While discussion of the pathogen’s biology may dominate when we look at eradication potential, that is only one aspect of the issue. Potentially more difficult are political and economic considerations. 

Eradication is a global enterprise. Interventions must be globally available and affordable, and there must be agreement among nations that eradication is not only possible but necessary. Reaching such an agreement would be facilitated by the World Health Assembly, the World Health Organization’s decision-making body. It is here that any campaign must begin, as delegates are the first to decide if eradication is feasible, if it’s a good use of resources, if all countries would value it enough to contribute, and so on. Even assuming everyone is interested in working toward the goal — which is assuming a lot — countless logistical issues would delay and hinder the project.

What do we do instead?

While eradication is unlikely, we have other options. Elimination of infections — reduction to zero within defined geographic areas — may be possible, but even that would require many years of sustained work. Elimination would be easier if we had second-generation vaccines that could provide long-term immunity and better protection from “breakthrough” infections, but it’s unclear if any coronavirus vaccine can do this, given that even infection does not. 

As we consider the loftier goal of elimination, in the short term we must aim simply for control: reduction of incidence to an acceptable level, due to deliberate efforts. This will come at a cost, probably a higher one than many public health experts are comfortable with, of thousands of COVID-19 deaths each year and additional chronic outcomes, such as long COVID. Luckily, the combination of vaccination, infection-induced immunity and novel treatments should reduce the risk of serious infection and death from COVID over time. Annual vaccination may be necessary to keep immunity high and to respond to any variations in circulating virus, as with influenza. Some individuals may also choose to wear masks in times of increased infections. 

We need to be honest about what to expect moving forward. The specter of COVID-19 will likely always be here, but with interventions it can be defanged. Achieving this is unlikely to herald the “return to normal” so many desperately desire — but neither will illusions of eradication.

Internet Explorer Channel Network
Asia's Tech News Daily
News Related


Sir Michael Caine Changes His Name To Michael Caine Because Of Isis

(Photo: Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA Wire) Article originally published 21/07/2016: due to a technical issue this article may have resurfaced for some readers, and the original publish date may not have been ... Read more »

Emma Raducanu and Rafael Nadal lead player backlash against Novak Djokovic

Emma Raducan Australian Open – AP The Australian Open can get along perfectly well without Novak Djokovic, said the 20-time major champion Rafael Nadal, on a day when the world’s ... Read more »

Prince Harry seeks judicial review after Home Office bans him from paying for police protection for Archie and Lilibet in UK

Prince Harry has filed a claim for a judicial review over a Home Office decision to not to allow him to privately pay for police protection for himself and his ... Read more »

Carrie Johnson pictured breaking Covid rules hugging friend at West End club

Carrie Johnson with her friend, Anna Pinder Carrie Johnson, the Prime Minister's wife, was photographed breaking Covid-19 social distancing rules days after the public was warned that it was “critical” ... Read more »

Vulnerable woman starved to death in NHS hospital following ‘unacceptable' failures

Jennifer Lewis died in July 2017 from the effects of malnutrition while she was an inpatient at the Bracton Hospital (Angela Lewis) “Unacceptable” failures by a mental health hospital to ... Read more »

Celine Dion inundated with prayers after agonizing health update

Celine Dion delivered upsetting news to fans on Saturday when she shared a health update. The star – who was forced to postpone her Las Vegas residency in October due ... Read more »

Tess Daly melts hearts with emotional tribute to Claudia Winkleman

Tess Daly paid a sweet tribute to her friend and co-worker Claudia Winkleman on Saturday in honour of her 50th birthday. MORE: Tess Daly and Claudia Winkleman's post-Strictly Come Dancing ... Read more »

Jeremy Corbyn Supporters Enjoy Clean Sweep In Election To Labour's Ruling Body

(Photo: Rob Stothard via Getty Images) The left-wing takeover of the Labour Party continued as allies of Jeremy Corbyn seized more control of its ruling body. Six Labour members backed ... Read more »

Amanda Holden sparks fan frenzy in thigh-high boots and sparkly bodysuit

Amanda Holden caused mass hysteria among her followers when she shared a jaw-dropping video of herself wearing very little on Saturday morning. MORE: Amanda Holden looks flawless in gorgeous must-see ... Read more »

Amanda Holden is the ultimate Charlie's Angel in slinky bodycon jumpsuit

Another day at the office means another seriously chic outfit for Amanda Holden! Putting a retro spin on her latest workwear look, the radio star headed to Global Studios in ... Read more »

Tonga hit by tsunami as Australia, New Zealand and US issue alerts after huge volcanic eruption

An undersea volcano has erupted in the Pacific island nation of Tonga, sending large waves which prompted tsunami advisories across the South Pacific and the US. People have been forced ... Read more »

Keir Starmer says ousting Boris Johnson would be ‘in the national interest'

Keir Starmer delivers his speech at the Fabian Society’s New Year Conference (EPA) Ousting Boris Johnson as Tory leader and prime minister would be “in the national interest”, Keir Starmer ... Read more »

Ant and Dec point out hilarious contestant look-a-like in first look at tonight's 'Limitless Win'

Ant and Dec spotted a contestant resemblance. (ITV) Ant and Dec spot a hilarious resemblance between one of their Limitless Win contestants and a famous face in a first look ... Read more »

Charles Spencer bears striking resemblance to Prince Harry in picture inside vast library

Charles Spencer previously revealed the library inside Althorp House is his favourite part of the home, but we didn't realise it had a very sentimental corner – until now. SEE: ... Read more »

Prince Andrew's ex-wife Sarah Ferguson to retain royal title

Prince Andrew‘s ex-wife Sarah Ferguson to retain royal title credit:Bang Showbiz Prince Andrew's ex-wife Sarah Ferguson will retain her royal title. Sarah has continued to use the title Sarah, Duchess ... Read more »

Vogue Williams' baby bump causes confusion in stunning bikini photo

Vogue Williams showed off her blossoming baby bump on Friday as she soaked up the sun in the Maldives. MORE: Vogue Williams demands second proposal after 'uncomfortable' Spencer Matthews engagement ... Read more »

Killer, 18, jailed for fatally stabbing 16-year-old who tried to break up a fight

Rayon Pennycook was stabbed to death in the street as he attempted to break up a fight (SWNS) A teenager has been jailed for life for stabbing a 16-year-old to ... Read more »

Tsunami waves detected after undersea volcano erupts in Tonga

File: A hazardous tsunami was generated in Tonga on Saturday (Getty Images) Tsunami waves measuring two feet in height were generated in American Samoa after volcanic activity in Tonga, a ... Read more »

This Morning fans make same plea after presenter shake up

This Morning made some changes to its presenting line-up ahead of Friday's edition of the show – and it sparked viewers to make a similar plea online. MORE: Alison Hammond ... Read more »

Djokovic heading back to detention before crunch Australia deportation hearing

Novak Djokovic's Australian Open fate is set to be determined in a fresh hearing on Sunday – with the defending champion back into detention before that takes place. In a ... Read more »

David Beckham shares candid new photo kissing daughter Harper - and wife Victoria reacts

David Beckham has delighted his fans by sharing new pictures with his daughter Harper during the school run. The former footballer joked that his ten-year-old girl looks almost identical to ... Read more »

Why Did the Queen Take So Long to Call Time on Prince Andrew?

John Thys/Getty Prince Andrew’s excommunication from royal life, announced this week by the queen, was a dramatic moment, for sure. But, as he prepares to continue fighting or end or ... Read more »

Warriors' depth shines in Bulls rout, Booker stars as Suns down Pacers

The Golden State Warriors showed off their newfound depth and flexed their muscle with a 138-96 rout over the Eastern Conference-leading Chicago Bulls on Friday. Three Warriors scored more points ... Read more »

Should Boris Johnson resign over ‘partygate'? Have your say in our poll

Senior Tories are calling for Boris Johnson to resign despite his apology for attending a boozy party in the garden of Downing Street during the first Covid lockdown in May ... Read more »

Pictured: Father killed in horror smash in Waltham Abbey

Stuart McDonald was killed in the crash (Supplied) Tributes have been paid to a father killed in a horror smash which also claimed the lives of a woman and her ... Read more »

Teenage girl grabbed from alleyway and raped by two masked men

The Metropolitan Police has commenced a man hunt to find the men who attacked the teenager – Britpix / Alamy Stock Photo A teenager was grabbed by two masked men ... Read more »

Woman who claimed Grenfell Tower victims ‘burned alive in Jewish sacrifice' convicted

Tahra Ahmed (Facebook) A woman who claimed that Grenfell Tower victims were “burned alive in a Jewish sacrifice” has been convicted of stirring up race hate. Tahra Ahmed, 51, of ... Read more »

Denise Welch describes ‘personal beef' with Prince Andrew over alleged Princess Diana comments

Denise Welch has admitted to having “personal beef” with Prince Andrew over disparaging remarks he allegedly made about Princess Diana. On Thursday (13 January), Buckingham Palace announced that Andrew was ... Read more »

Doctor took her own life after two bouts of COVID devastated her health

Dr Fiona Denison took her own life after the trauma of being hospitalised with COVID left her with severe mental health problems (SWNS) An academic took her own life after ... Read more »

Sounds fishy: Plant-based salmon filet that is high in Omega-3 and protein, but without the mercury and microplastics, is set to hit the market in 2024

Plantish unveiled its plant-based whole-cute salmon filet on ThursdayThe salmon filet is made of  legume proteins, algae oil and other bindersIt has Omega-3s, Omega-6s, B vitamins and protein, which is found in real fishHowever, the plant-based meal does not have mercury or microplastics   Read more »

Sarah Ferguson: will ex-wife continue to ‘remain steadfast' for Prince Andrew'?

Photograph: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA Duchess of York appears to be one of few people Andrew can still turn to for unconditional support Last month, with storm clouds gathering over Windsor as ... Read more »

“Hey, Alexa! Are you trustworthy?”

The more social behaviors a voice-user interface exhibits, the more likely people are to trust it, engage with it, and consider it to be competent. Read more »

Acquitted XR activists hope actions will inspire change

An Extinction Rebellion activist acquitted over a 2019 protest stunt says she feels her action has been “vindicated” and hopes it will inspire others to combat climate change. Reverend Sue ... Read more »

Bewigged 'Boris Johnsons' sing outside Downing Street

Around one hundred bewigged Boris Johnson lookalikes have chanted “my name is Boris” and “this is a work event” as part of a demonstration outside Downing Street in London, earlier ... Read more »

Watch the Earth BREATHE: Mesmerising animation captures plants taking up and releasing carbon as the seasons change

Animation shows Earth's land 'sucking' in and emitting carbon through the year It's based on satellite observations and hundreds of carbon-monitoring stations Continents inflate in the winter when plants die and release their stored carbonIn summer they deflate as plants suck carbon from the atmosphere as they grow Read more »

'Emmerdale' fans outraged by serial killer Meena avoiding justice

Meena still hasn’t got her comeuppance. (ITV) Emmerdale fans have been left dissatisfied with the ending to Meena Jutla's serial killer storyline as she appeared to escape justice by running ... Read more »

Voices: The threads of privilege and disgrace that connect Boris Johnson and Prince Andrew

Some have suggested travails of Prince Andrew may ease pressure on Boris Johnson (- WPA Pool/Getty Images) It’s a pretty straight shot from 10 Downing Street to Buckingham Palace, probably ... Read more »

Boris Johnson's ex-COVID taskforce chief admits to another government lockdown party

A general view of Cabinet Office in Whitehall, London (PA) The former director general of the government's COVID taskforce has confessed to having a leaving party while under lockdown rules. ... Read more »

Pippa Middleton Seen on Rare Date Night with Husband James Matthews After Welcoming Baby Girl Last Year

Pippa Middleton and James Matthews Ricky Vigil M/GC Images Pippa Middleton and James Matthews It's date night for Pippa Middleton and James Matthews! Kate Middleton's younger sister stepped out on ... Read more »

Sofia Vergara sends temperatures soaring in gold metallic bikini – friends react

Sofia Vergara took a trip down memory lane on Thursday as she shared an iconic modelling picture of herself on Instagram. MORE: Sofia Vergara and Joe Manganiello's romantic birthday dinner ... Read more »
On free-english-test.com you will find lots of free English exam practice materials to help you improve your English skills: grammar, listening, reading, writing, ielts, toeic