Pandemic or Endemic: What the Experts are Saying on the Future of Covid-19

“It can’t be an emergency forever,” professor of infectious disease modeling at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Graham Medley, said on BBC Radio 4. Through the interview, Medley articulated the growing sentiment that governments in Europe should consider reconfiguring their efforts around the pandemic. Despite the continued prevalence of the Omicron variant across the United States and abroad, a small contingent of politicians and other public figures are suggesting we act as if Covid-19 were endemic rather than a pandemic. The idea first gained popularity in European countries where vaccination rates are largely higher than they are in the U.S.; however, a number of politicians in the States have backed the shift as well. Endemic, according to the CDC, “refers to the constant presence and/or usual prevalence of a disease or infectious agent in a population”. While the persistent quality laid out by the definition appears to be reflective of our current situation, the change in designation from pandemic to endemic carries with it some qualities that have proven to be more controversial in the scientific community.


Dr. Anna Blakney elaborated on the distinction in an article in Al Jazeera, explaining that the emergency measures used for a pandemic or epidemic, “aren’t needed or required,” with something that is endemic and suggesting that, due to this, governments would enforce fewer restrictions. Proponents of the shift to an endemic approach reference the increase of vaccination and the seemingly tame symptoms associated with the Omicron variant, claiming they provide evidence that we can begin to lower our guard and treat Covid-19 as something closer to a seasonal flu.


Scientists and other health officials balked at the idea that we can reduce our efforts in mitigating the pandemic, pointing to the U.S. and other countries having their highest number of infections since the pandemic started. In a plea issued to The British Medical Journal, a coalition of medical professionals maintained that we need to continue our current efforts in order, “to avoid overwhelming health systems”. Another talking point for those opposing the change is the potential emergence of a more lethal and more transmissible variant of Covid-19. Ultimately the scientists, researchers, and healthcare workers insist that we not reduce our efforts now when the future of the pandemic is so hard to predict. In the same Al Jazeera article, the director of the WHO, General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus voiced this concern saying, “It is dangerous to assume that Omicron will be the last variant, or that we are in the endgame”.


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