Study: COVID-19 May Become Endemic Without Vaccine

Barring a successful vaccine, COVID-19 may experience a yearly outbreak similar to the flu.

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has the potential to become endemic in humans, according to recent research published in Science.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused over 1 million deaths and there have been more than 38.6 million confirmed cases worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. New research from Columbia Mailman School of Public Health suggests that the COVID-19 virus has the potential to become endemic, meaning that it could be a frequently reoccurring outbreak in humans.

Investigators explored the possibility that immunity to severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), through either infection or a vaccine, diminishes within a year. This rate is similar to endemic betacoronavirus, which causes mild respiratory illness, according to the study.

The model predicted a yearly outbreak of COVID-19. According to the study, COVID-19 infection provides only short-term protection, only about a week, against a second infection. Additionally, there is some evidence that coinfection with other viruses, such as influenza, is possible. COVID-19 may also be more transmissible during winter, meaning it could reemerge seasonally.

"Should reinfection prove commonplace, and barring a highly effective vaccine delivered to most of the world's population, SARS-CoV-2 will likely settle into a pattern of endemicity," the study authors said in a joint statement via press release. "Whether reinfections will be commonplace, how often they will occur, how contagious re-infected individuals will be, and whether the risk of severe clinical outcomes changes with subsequent infection remain to be understood," study authors write.

According to the study, a large seasonal influenza outbreak can further strain already strapped hospitals dealing with the COVID-19. Limited studies have confirmed that simultaneous respiratory infections are not associated with disease severity, however.

Reference:

Will the COVID-19 virus become endemic? [News Release] October 15, 2020; New York, NY. https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-10/cums-wtc101420.php. Accessed October 16, 2020