We all know how this pandemic began. Originating from a Wuhan seafood market in China, the virus has now spread to almost every single country, locking down the whole world for a good six months now. But little do we know about how or when this pandemic will end.
It is probably safe to say we are still nowhere near the end. Cases are still surging everywhere around the globe, countries breaking their own records every single day. Lockdowns, social distancing, wearing masks - nothing has really worked completely in containing the virus so far.
Governments are being torn between saving lives or the economy, taking short sighted decisions, and making it even worse. Nothing concrete has been found yet to stop this virus.
"We are still in the midst of an accelerating, intense, and very serious pandemic." – BBC quoted Dr Margaret Harris from the WHO in an article earlier this week.
Although this is one single virus that caused the pandemic, there have been hundreds and thousands of theories and speculations. Its diversity in nature and effects within regions and countries can easily blind one to the reality beyond his/her own country.
Historians believe a pandemic can have two types of epilogues – medical and social. Medical ending happens when a permanent remedy is discovered and the affected and death cases plummet down to zero. This is probably what everyone is waiting for. Another is social ending, when everyone fights down their fear of the disease and learns to live with it.
The New York Times quoted Dr Jeremy Greene, a historian of medicine at Johns Hopkinssays - "When people ask, 'When will this end?' they are asking about the social ending".
This pandemic may end socially before it ends medically. An epidemic of fear can have far worse consequences than the virus itself. People suffer more from this and eventually grow tired of the restrictions and the initial panic mode.
That is when they eventually come out of their houses and learn to live with the virus following safety protocols - the new normal. And we are already seeing this happen in most of the countries.
Think of Bangladesh for a moment. When the shutdown was first imposed in late March, the country suddenly stood still. People from all walks of life became restlessness among them, panic mode set in. The ever busy streets were suddenly empty, there was pin drop silence all around. Stepping out of home for nothing felt like a crime. And this did continue for a few months.
However, over the last couple of months, people have begun to step out of their homes and carry on with their normal life. Offices, businesses, shops, restaurants, parks - almost everything has reopened, except for the educational institutions. The usual hustle and bustle of daily life is gradually coming back to life.
This has recently been the case almost everywhere around the world. Fear and panic seems to have taken a back seat across the globe. Governments are trying hard to reopen important places and institutions to bring things back to normal, only to see a bigger surge in the coronavirus cases due to this. However, people are still trying to live their life, maintaining all safety protocols.
Medical ending is actually the permanent solution, and a little bit complicated too. A working effective vaccine will destroy the virus and bring triumph over this pandemic, that is the common belief. Coming up with a proven working vaccine will not be that easy, and the current speculations regarding the virus only make it more complicated. So it is safe to say we are still far behind a permanent medical solution.
Usually, it takes more than a year or two to develop a vaccine, depending on several issues. Based on that, we are nearly a good year away from getting a permanent working vaccine. It can get delayed for many reasons, and there are actually signs of conflicts here and there.
The New York Times reported that on August 11, Russia has already approved a Gamaleya vaccine before Phase III testing. More than 165 vaccines are being developed against the coronavirus around the world, while 30 of them are in human trials.
Human trials is the critical stage where it will determine whether the vaccine will actually work or not. Due to the mutations of the virus, it has only become more difficult. There are confusions and speculations, but it is widely hoped and expected that vaccines will be available in the later months of 2021.
Some experts believe this pandemic will continue for at least two years with the vaccine being developed and distributed worldwide. Vivek Murthy, former US surgeon-general, has warned that the pandemic might not go away until the end of 2022.
Microsoft co-founder, Bill Gates told Wired magazine on August 07, 2020- "For the rich world, we should largely be able to end this thing by the end of 2021, and for the world at large, by the end of 2022."
While hopes are high and fingers are crossed for a safe and effective vaccine as early as possible, there are several issues that complicate the whole process. Any concrete proof of reinfection may well halt the whole effort of developing a vaccine. If that is the case, then vaccines might not even offer permanent immunity.
We still do not know how long antibodies work against the virus. And if somehow the vaccines do not offer permanent immunity from the virus, people may need the vaccine every year or two later, to maintain immunity, just like flu shot.
According to The Atlantic, if immunity lasts a few months, there could be a huge pandemic followed by small outbreaks every year. Immunity lasting closer to two years could see Covid-19 peaking every other year and cases rising and falling over time.
Herd immunity – with or without vaccines – can be a solution, but that will take some time to drive away the pandemic as well. To achieve herd immunity, the virus needs to be transmitted to around 65-70 per cent of the people. Sweden has taken this road of achieving herd immunity without a vaccine, which has proved to be costly with a much higher rate of deaths than other affected countries.
Covid-19 may end up being another virus ending as an endemic, even with the discovery of vaccines. Vaccines actually exist for more than a dozen of human viruses, but only smallpox has been eradicated, The Atlantic reports.
The virus has locked the whole world down for quite some time now, and it is not going anywhere anytime soon. The sooner the vaccines are available, the better. We better not expect that the vaccines will have a Hollywood-esque arrival and fix the problem in a flash. Proper vaccination will still take a good year or two given it works effectively once discovered.
Social distancing and other safety protocols still need to be maintained while stepping out of home. It should be kept in mind that the pandemic is not over just because we are over it. And the question might just change from "when" to "if" this virus will be disappear and the pandemic will ever come to an end.