The Future of COVID: Infectious diseases expert cautiously optimistic

Published: Feb. 23, 2022 at 4:23 PM EST
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Globally, COVID-19-based restrictions are easing up as case counts seem to be stabilizing.

So, what will the future of this pandemic look like? What’s next for us as we continue to fight back against COVID-19?

Those are the questions we posed to Dr. William Petri, a leader at the University of Virginia’s Division of Infectious Diseases and International Health.

Dr. Petri said right now, transmission is still high and he’d recommend keeping your mask on inside public places. But in as little as a month he says our cases will really drop significantly.

He credits the changing seasons, of course, but mostly the efficacy of our vaccines to prevent serious illness. Millions of Americans now have also been exposed to the virus.

How long immunity will last, how strongly COVID-19 will return come winter, and how additional variants might develop are difficult to determine.

But Dr. Petri said we should expect COVID-19 to stick around.

“Of course we’ll be in, like, a much better position, because now we know, like, the mask and social distancing, hand washing works,” he explained. “We know that the vaccines work. And we now have pills to treat COVID. You know the molnupiravir. And the Paxlovid. And so things will be like way better, but I think this gonna be part of the fabric of our life, unfortunately. It’s not going to be just cold and flu season - now it’s gonna be cold, flu and COVID season.”

Dr. Petri said it is possible to eradicate COVID-19, but it won’t be anytime soon. He compares it to the global effort to eradicate wild poliovirus - a job decades in the making, which is ongoing.

More people, he said, will need to be vaccinated and boosted - particularly young children for whom a vaccine has not yet been approved. He is also concerned about the apparently low uptake in vaccines for 5- to 11-year-olds.

Plus, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Petri said the more people who can be vaccinated worldwide - the better. Greater vaccination rates against COVID-19 would also help reduce the changes for COVID-19 to mutate to a new variant. Coronaviruses, he said, have a tendency to spill over from animal populations into humans.

Here’s more of the good news, though: Petri said if a global pandemic should happen again, he feels we’ll be much better prepared.

Also, the rapid development of mRNA vaccines and therapeutics in response to COVID will likely help scientists develop better vaccines and medicines for other things like RSV or dengue fever.

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