Doctor: ‘COVID-19 is here to stay and it will continue to cause outbreaks year-round until herd immunity is achieved.’
BEIRUT, Lebanon — We see the advisories every year about getting a flu shot. They’re a constant reminder that cooler weather is coming and it’s bringing respiratory viruses with it. A new study predicts the coronavirus pandemic may become the new annual annoyance, but only when one key event occurs. Researchers say once countries with temperate climates reach herd immunity, COVID-19 will likely become a seasonal sickness.
Herd immunity is the term for when enough of the population becomes immune to a certain disease. This occurs through either vaccinations or when enough people get sick and develop antibodies against the infection, making it hard to spread the illness from person to person.
“COVID-19 is here to stay and it will continue to cause outbreaks year-round until herd immunity is achieved,” Dr. Hassan Zaraket from the American University of Beirut says in a media release. “Therefore, the public will need to learn to live with it and continue practicing the best prevention measures, including wearing of masks, physical distancing, hand hygiene and avoidance of gatherings.”
Before COVID-19 becomes the new seasonal flu bug, researchers warn there could be several waves in the pandemic prior to the world gaining immunity.
Cold weather will invite coronavirus to stick around
Many respiratory viruses, like influenza and the common cold, tend to peak during the winter in regions with moderate climates. This isn’t the case in tropical areas however, where viruses circulate all year.
Comparing these illnesses to SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19, the study finds all these viruses spread in similar ways. Researchers say changes in temperature and humidity fuel changes in behavior, like crowding indoors, leading to more people getting sick.
Unlike the flu however, coronavirus has a higher transmission rate which scientists partly blame on communities not taking the proper safety precautions during the pandemic. Until this transmission rate drops, COVID-19 will continue to spread in the summer months too.
Study authors say this immunity pattern is even true for other coronavirus strains, like NL63 and HKU1, which now follow the same seasonal schedule as the flu.
“This remains a novel virus and despite the fast-growing body of science about it there are still things that are unknown. Whether our predictions hold true or not remains to be seen in the future. But we think it’s highly likely, given what we know so far, COVID-19 will eventually become seasonal, like other coronaviruses,” Zaraket adds.
The study appears in the journal Frontiers in Public Health.