When Will The COVID-19 Pandemic End?

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As we come upon two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, the question on everyone’s mind is when and how it will end. This past month has seen surges of the Omicron variant. Hospital workers have been exhausted and overwhelmed with patients, everyone is tired and stressed. But there could be a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

“I’m optimistic that Omicron has already peaked, as we’re starting to see cases go down,” says Dennis Cunningham, M.D., medical director of infection control and prevention at Henry Ford Health. “It could be followed by a period of relative calm.”  

But it doesn’t necessarily mean the pandemic will end. While there have been whispers—and hope—that this last Omicron surge could be the last major surge, Dr. Cunningham isn’t so sure. “I don’t think this will be the end of COVID-19; I think it’s very likely that we will eventually see new variants,” he says.

No one can be sure about what will happen with COVID-19, or when the pandemic will end. But here are two scenarios that could play out. 

A Best-Case Scenario

Omicron is more contagious than the Delta variant, but it seems to be milder—especially if you’re vaccinated and boosted. Because of how contagious Omicron is, natural immunity combined with vaccine immunity could mean that the pandemic turns into an endemic, or a virus that circulates in localized regions, but to a lesser degree and with less severity than a pandemic. The flu and seasonal colds are endemics, for example.

If the pandemic turns into an endemic, it may require us to have yearly COVID-19 shots—as we do with the flu—but it won’t disrupt our way of life, as a pandemic does.

“If COVID-19 becomes an endemic, as long as we have vaccines to prevent hospitalization and death, we will still be able to resume our normal lives,” says Dr. Cunningham. “The most important thing is that COVID-19 doesn’t continue to pose such a dangerous threat and cause such serious illness in people, which is what vaccines are for. Managing an endemic is one thing; trying to manage a pandemic is another.”

A Worst-Case Scenario

But along with Dr. Cunningham, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, believes we will “undoubtedly” get another variant—and it’s not known whether our immunity against Omicron will work against a new variant, or how long immunity against Omicron lasts. The big fear is that, if more people don’t get vaccinated, the virus could continue to evolve and new variants could continue to appear—including one that evades vaccine detection and leads to even more severe disease.

“People who are vaccinated can fight off COVID-19 more easily, so they don’t give the virus time to grow and change,” says Allison Weinmann, M.D., an infectious disease specialist with Henry Ford Health. “Those who are unvaccinated are ideal hosts for COVID-19, as they give the virus time to figure out how to mutate and become stronger. If more people don’t get vaccinated, we could eventually have a variant that’s so different from the original strain of COVID-19 that the current vaccines won’t be effective.”

So, where do we go from here? You might be sick of hearing it, but right now, the best thing you can do is get vaccinated and boosted. Mask up in public places. Get tested if you have symptoms—and encourage your friends and family to, too.

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Henry Ford offers COVID-19 vaccines and boosters to established patients. Appointments can be scheduled in MyChart. For updates on booster guidelines and availability of vaccines by age group, visit henryford.com/coronavirus/vaccine-faqs.  

Dr. Dennis Cunningham is the medical director of infection control and prevention at Henry Ford Health.  

Dr. Allison Weinmann is an infectious disease specialist and sees patients at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.

Categories: FeelWell