Covid-19 could be here to stay. The novel coronavirus that’s currently wracking the world “might never go away,” according to a leading World Health Organization (WHO) official.
Dr Mike Ryan, the WHO’s leading health emergency expert, has warned of the possibility that SARS-CoV-2, the cause of the deadly Covid-19 disease, could become “just another endemic virus” like the seasonal flu or HIV. Even if an effective vaccine is developed – and there’s no certainty that it ever will be developed – it will still require a “massive effort” to bring the virus under control, he said.
“I think it's important to put this on the table: this virus may become just another endemic virus in our communities. And this virus may never go away,” Dr Ryan said at a WHO media briefing on Wednesday, May 13.
“HIV has not gone away, but we've come to terms with the virus. And we have found the therapies and we found the prevention methods, and people don't feel as scared as they did before,” he added. “I think it is important that we're realistic and I don't think anyone can predict when or if this disease will disappear."
“We do have one great hope," he continued. "If we do find a highly effective vaccine that we can distribute to everyone who needs it in the world we may have a shot at eliminating this virus but that vaccine will have to highly effective, it will have to be made available to everyone and we will have to use it.”
While a huge amount of hope has been pinned on the development of a vaccine, Ryan argues there are many examples of diseases that exist despite there being effective vaccines or preventions. Perhaps the most prominent current example of this is measles, which has a highly effective vaccine but still experiences recurring waves of resurgences across the world.
The fact that the coronavirus does not mutate rapidly, compared to some other prevalent viral infections, has provided some optimism that an effective vaccine is scientifically possible to develop. However, this won’t be a quick process. Typically, a safe and effective vaccination takes an average of 10.7 years to develop, so rolling out a Covid-19 vaccine in under two years would be an unprecedented feat.
Dr Anthony Fauci, the director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said it’s “more likely than not that” the US will develop a vaccination, but warned it won't be ready for at least 18 months. Other scientific experts have described Dr Fauci’s estimate as “an optimistic one, but possible.”
"We've never accelerated a vaccine in a year to 18 months," Dr Peter Hotez, Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, told CNN. "It doesn't mean it's impossible, but it will be quite a heroic achievement.
"We need plan A, and a plan B,"