How COVID-19 Could Become Endemic

The true end game, scientists say, is for COVID-19 to become endemic.

How COVID-19 Could Become Endemic
U.S. National Institutes of Health

The COVID-19 pandemic has stretched on for 20 months. 

Vaccines have saved millions of lives. But new variants have evolved. Now, in rare cases, some vaccinated people are getting sick, what scientists call breakthrough infections.  

Scientists say it was naive to hope the vaccines would cause the virus to vanish, bringing a swift end to the pandemic.  

The true end game, they say, is for COVID-19 to become endemic. Those are diseases that stay confined, spreading predictably each year. The seasonal flu, for example, kills up to 52,000 Americans each year, but it’s not a pandemic. 

We get our flu shots, we stay home from work or school when we’re sick, and the disease doesn’t dominate our lives.  It could be the same for COVID.   

Scientist say pandemics end one of three ways: People will either get vaccinated, or infected with the virus and recover, gaining natural immunity. Or, many more could die, ending the chain of transmission.  

With fewer and fewer  people to infect, the virus will finally slow its spread. Scientists think outbreaks will flare up sometimes. But we’ll learn to live with that risk.