That is the enduring question in this time of the COVID19 pandemic. When will this end? As I’ve said in prior writings, I am not an epidemiologist, I am only someone who follows the data and extrapolates from the facts. As Dr. Fauci has replied, and I agree, the answer is “it depends”. The part he’s leaving out is that it likely will end in 12-18 months. The question is “why that long?”.
One of two things will end this pandemic: the first is an effective treatment. This is the big unknown. It all could be over in a matter of weeks if some miracle drug is found. While a possibility exists of this happening, it is more a hope than a way to plan. That leaves us the other way the pandemic will end: the realization of “herd immunity”. Yet what is this term that we’ve been hearing so much about?
While I could offer my own description and definition of “herd immunity” I’ll instead rely on Wikipedia. The experts who have written there have done a far better job than I could here:
Herd immunity is a form of indirect protection from infectious disease that occurs when a large percentage of a population has become immune to an infection, whether through previous infections or vaccination, thereby providing a measure of protection for individuals who are not immune. In a population in which a large proportion of individuals possess immunity, such people being unlikely to contribute to disease transmission, chains of infection are more likely to be disrupted, which either stops or slows the spread of disease. The greater the proportion of immune individuals in a community, the smaller the probability that non-immune individuals will come into contact with an infectious individual, helping to shield non-immune individuals from infection. (emphasis added)
One of two things result in achieving herd immunity: vaccinations or enough people contracting the disease. The former is the far less painful and devastating than the latter. It’s unclear on the percentage of the overall population of the US would need to become sick and survive to reach a required level of societal immunity. We don’t have enough data to project it for COVID19. The Wikipedia site lists 29-74%. Either of these numbers would mean that between roughly 100 million and 230 million people will become ill. And if the worldwide death rate holds here in the United States (it’s currently at around 5%) that means we’d see between 5 and 12 million people dying. Clearly, people getting sick is not the way to beat this disease. Which leaves vaccinations as the only viable alternative and the only way out of this. And this leads to my projected duration.
Every legitimate media report tells us that it will take 12-18 months to develop, test, and deploy a vaccination against COVID19. And that’s where the available data leads me to find the conclusion. It means another year or more of social distancing, of quarantining, of aggressively avoiding the disease. If we don’t? The possible ramifications are horrifying.