Not now but soon, we’re going to wake up to an unexpected headline. It will read, “No More Pandemic”.
It’s not going to be what you think.
For those among you who still think that COVID-19 is some sort of hoax, you’ll be disappointed, because it’s not. It’s becoming increasingly obvious to even the most blinkered that the sickness is real, and that it’s quite severe. As I write this, I’m currently COVID-positive, and have had a nasty bout going for a couple of weeks. Take it from me: It’s not at all pleasant. The beds of my fingernails ache, dammit.
Thank Heaven that I’m vaccinated, because I also know how bad this can get for people who aren’t.
On the other hand, it’s no secret that there are breakthrough infections even among the fully vaccinated (again, like me) — and that even vaccinated people can be contagious. The obvious conclusion we can draw from this is that our present vaccines, even if everyone gets them, will never eliminate the COVID virus from the population. There are new vaccines being tested as we speak, and even more still in development, but they’re lagging behind the development of new strains.
We’re not going to catch up. Not any time soon.
There’s a word for that, and it’s not “pandemic”. It’s “endemic”. The human race has COVID, and will have it for the foreseeable future. People will continue to contract it; there will be peaks and valleys; more and more of the populace will become at least partially immune as time goes by. Eventually, it will find a balance of sorts as the most vulnerable among us — up to a tenth of the general unvaccinated population, by some models — dies off and stops contributing their genome to upcoming generations, and as the rest — the vaccinated — acquire natural immunity to bolster that generated by the vaccines.
One thing about the word “endemic”: It implies geographic boundaries. India has it and always will; China mostly doesn’t have it. Australia and New Zealand are each thinly populated with a high degree of national spirit, so they’ve been able to contain their outbreaks. The United States can’t mandate vaccinations or cooperation, and as such we will end up lumped in with the other underdeveloped nations, those with a large number of citizens that will be unable to travel freely across national borders for fear of contagion.
This is not an attempt to lay blame; it’s not designed to allocate fault or responsibility. It’s a simple statement of unavoidable, unassailable fact.
It’s equally true that the forces of evolution will, over several generations, alleviate the vulnerability of the population to the disease. We saw that with smallpox several centuries ago; aboriginal Americans died by the millions due to (largely accidental) contagion, whereas European settlers had a natural resistance that helped some of them survive. It should only take a few generations of mass death in such states as Texas, Alabama, Florida, and Louisiana for our own population to gain this vulnerability, and it can be presumed that, after the next few million deaths, willful resistance to vaccination will decrease while vaccines improve. Even if not, it’s a self-solving problem.
Let me correct that: It’s not a problem. Problems can be solved; this can’t. It’s merely a phenomenon, and a sad one.
Some of us are afraid, if not just for ourselves then for our elders, and for our children. We’re right to be afraid; COVID is dangerous. It’s debilitating even when it’s not deadly, and vaccination isn’t a complete defense. More applicable to this specific point, our children can’t yet be vaccinated and our elders are increasingly vulnerable.
However, there is an illusion here, and I’m writing to remove that.
We were never safe, not really; we just thought we were. A century ago, a particularly nasty influenza killed millions — just like COVID. Before that were other epidemics; we’ll have more as time goes by. Viruses are a part of nature; they have always been deadly and always will be.
Today, as a society, we’re slowly coming to grips with that. As our awareness of this new normal sinks in to the collective consciousness, it’s only a matter of time before things change. Someone is going to get successfully sued for damages after willfully spreading COVID; someone’s going to eventually get convicted of reckless endangerment or even manslaughter. Gradually, people will start wearing masks during flu season and peak virus times less out of fear than because everyone else is.
And life will go on.
Well, for most of us. I hope I’m among their number. I hope you are too.
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