Is COVID-19 over? Scientists say no.

Is the coronavirus progressing?

You might think so. New, updated booster downloads are released for better protection than the currently released variants. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has withdrawn its COVID-19 quarantine and social distancing recommendations. And more people threw away their masks and returned to pre-pandemic activities.

But scientists say no. They predict that the scourge that has already lasted longer than the 1918 flu pandemic will linger long into the future.

One reason it took so long? It is getting better at dealing with immunity from vaccination and previous infection. Scientists point to emerging research that suggests the latest variant of the microbe to gain ground in the U.S. — BA.4.6, which was responsible for about 8 percent of new infections in the U.S. last week — appears to be even better at avoiding immune system from dominant BA. 5.

Scientists worry that the virus may continue to evolve in alarming ways.

HOW LONG WILL IT BE AROUND?

The White House’s coordinator for COVID-19, Dr. Ashish Jha, said that COVID-19 will likely be with us for the rest of our lives.

Experts expect that COVID-19 will one day become endemic, meaning that it occurs regularly in certain areas according to established patterns. But they don’t think that will be too soon.

However, living with COVID “doesn’t necessarily have to be scary or a bad idea” as people get better at fighting it, Ja said during a recent question-and-answer session with U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont . “Obviously if you take our foot off the gas — if we stop updating our vaccines, stop getting new treatments — then we could slide backwards.”

Experts say that COVID will continue to cause serious illness in some people. The Covid-19 Scenario Modeling Hub made some pandemic predictions from August 2022 to May 2023, assuming that new modified boosters that add protection for omicron’s younger relatives would be available and a booster campaign would take place in the fall and winter. In the most pessimistic scenario—a new variant and delayed boosters—they predicted 1.3 million hospitalizations and 181,000 deaths during that period. In the most optimistic scenario—no new variant and early boosters—they predicted just over half the number of hospitalizations and 111,000 deaths.

Eric Topol, head of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, said the world is likely to continue to see repeated increases until “we do the things we need to do,” such as developing next-generation vaccines and making them fair.

Topol said the virus “simply has too many ways to work around our current strategies, and it’s just going to keep finding people, finding them again, and perpetuating itself.”

HOW WILL THE VIRUS MUTATE?

Scientists expect more genetic changes that affect parts of the spike protein that hold the surface of the virus, allowing it to attach to human cells.

“Every time we think we’ve seen the peak of transmission, the peak immune evasion properties, the virus exceeds that by another significant level,” Topol said.

But the virus likely won’t continue to become more contagious forever.

“I think there is a limit,” said Matthew Binicker, director of clinical virology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. “What we’re really dealing with, though, is that there are still a lot of people around the world who don’t have prior immunity — either they haven’t been infected or they haven’t had access to vaccination.”

If humanity’s baseline level of immunity were to rise significantly, he said, the rate of infection, and with it the emergence of more infectious variants, should slow.

But there is a chance that the virus could mutate in a way that causes more severe disease.

“There’s no inherent reason, biologically, that the virus should become milder over time,” said Dr. Wesley Long, an internist at Houston Methodist. The fact that it may seem milder now “is probably just the combined effect of all of us having some immune history with the virus.”

While scientists hope this will continue, they also point out that immunity is gradually waning.

WILL THE NEXT VARIANT BE ANOTHER VERSION OF OMICRON?

Omicron has been around since late last year, with a number of highly streamed releases quickly replacing each other, and Binnicker believes “that will continue for at least the next few months.”

But along the way, he said a new variant other than omicron is likely to emerge.

The recent wave of infections and reinfections, he said, “gives the virus more chance to spread and mutate and new variants emerge.”

CAN HUMANS AFFECT THE FUTURE OF THE VIRUS?

Yes, said the experts.

One way, they said, is to vaccinate and strengthen them. It not only protects against serious illness and death, but increases the level of immunity worldwide. They said people should also continue to protect themselves by, for example, wearing masks indoors when COVID rates are high.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Tuesday that up to 100,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations and 9,000 deaths could be avoided if Americans get the updated booster at the same rate they typically get an annual flu shot this fall. About half of Americans usually get a flu shot each year.

Longtime nurse Catherine Mirabile said it’s important not to dismiss the dangers of the coronavirus — which sickened her twice, nearly killed her husband and left them both with long-term COVID. Daily deaths still average about 450 in the US

“People really need to see this and take it seriously,” said the 62-year-old from Princeton, West Virginia, who is now on disability. “They could end up in the same situation we are in.”

___

AP reporter Amanda Seitz contributed from Washington.

___

The Associated Press Health and Science Section is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Science Education Division. AP is solely responsible for all content.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *