Is coronavirus going to turn into another seasonal illness like the flu?

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It has been a disastrous 11 months for the entire nation, with thousands of deaths, multiple lockdowns, and a ruined economy just some of the effects of the ‘new normal’. Millions of us are asking when it will finally be over, or whether it will ever be over at all. Some countries, such as New Zealand, have been able to eradicate the virus from the population through strictly enforced lockdowns and travel bans. But the UK has not procured such a strategy, leaving us to battle with the virus a year on.

The question of whether we will ever be able to get rid of coronavirus can be answered quite simply: no, we can’t get rid of it, thanks to a number of complex factors often beyond human control methods such as lockdowns and vaccinations.

Professor Martin Michaelis of the University of Kent’s School of Biosciences has explained to the virus is here to stay for a number of reasons, despite the fact the UK now has three different vaccines either being rolled out or soon to be administered.

Professor Michaelis said: “Vaccines may provide at least in some individuals longer protection from Covid-19 than the natural disease, but we do not know this for sure, yet.

“Given the experience with the natural infection, however, it appears unlikely that vaccines will provide protection for years or decades as we know it for example from the measles vaccine.

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“Independently of the efficacy of vaccines, it will be a challenge to vaccinate more than 80 percent or 90 percent of the world population due to logistical, infrastructural, and financial reasons and, not least, due to the high levels of vaccine hesitancy.”

Professor Michaelis explained that even with a perfect vaccine and 100 percent compliance in taking it, Covid-19 will not simply disappear.

New mutations will continue to develop, and recognition in those who have been inoculated or have already had the disease could be compromised.

He said: “Since still only relatively small proportions of the population have been infected with Covid-19 or vaccinated, there is currently no selection pressure that would favour the formation of variants that can bypass pre-existing immunity.

“With increasing numbers of Covid-19 survivors and vaccinated individuals, however, these variants will inevitably emerge.

“We have already seen such escape variants in studies testing antibodies as Covid-19 therapies.

“Therefore, the most likely scenario for the future is that Covid-19 vaccines will have to be regularly updated to cover new variants.”

The flu vaccine is updated frequently due to the ever-changing nature of the virus, and those who need it are invited by the NHS to get their jab every year.

Professor Michaelis continued: “Also, pathogens that are as easily transmissible as Covid-19 have historically not disappeared.

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“Influenza viruses, which cause the flu, have probably been with us for more than 8,000 years.

“Given the large number of human infections, it is therefore very unlikely that we would now be able to completely eradicate COVID-19 from the human population.”

Furthermore, there are similarities between the flu and coronavirus, meaning

“Both diseases are caused by so-called ‘zoonotic’ viruses, i.e. viruses that infect many species and not just humans.

“Influenza viruses infect a wide range of species in addition to humans, most prominently horses, pigs, and birds.

“Like influenza viruses, SARS-CoV-2 can infect many species.

“It has been derived from bats and animals including the pangolin have been suspected to have transmitted it to humans.

“In addition to bats, pangolins, and humans, we already know that SARS-CoV-2 can infect cats, tigers, lions, dogs, and ferrets.

“Our knowledge on this is not complete and many more animal species may be susceptible to SARS-CoV-2. Recent Covid-19 outbreaks in mink farms, in which the virus was passed on from humans to minks and then from minks back again to humans, have received high public attention.

“One reasons for this was that this resulted in the emergence of a new ‘mink’ variant of the virus with potentially modified properties.

“Hence, even if the complete eradication of Covid-19 from the human population was possible, it may be re-introduced from other animal species into humans.

“Taken together, Covid-19 is likely to continue to spread in humans, because there is no reliable long-term immune protection, new virus variants will emerge that can escape pre-existing immune protection caused by vaccines or the disease, and re-introduction is possible from other species.

“Therefore, it is very likely that we will have yearly Covid-19 vaccination programmes in the future, similarly to those that we know for the flu.”

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