5 Experts Muse about the Future of COVID-19

By Nidhi Parekh, The Shared Microscope

Published July 14, 2020

As the COVID-19 vaccine trials advance, we find ourselves wondering what life will look like if/when a successful vaccine becomes available. Is a post-COVID-19 world possible? Will COVID-19 become endemic? Should we have done it all differently? What about a vaccine? What are the major troubles we are facing? Let’s see what the experts have to say on these questions.

1) Peter Piot, M.D., Ph.D. of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

A coronavirus vaccine is the only way out of the pandemic

Prof. Peter Piot has spent the majority of his life studying HIV and Ebola viruses. He is currently the Special Advisor to the President of the European Commission on research, innovation and response to the coronavirus and COVID-19.  He himself was infected with and recovered from COVID-19. In an interview published in Science, Prof. Piot reveals that immediately after recovering from the novel coronavirus, the first thing he picked up again was his work as a COVID-19 R&D special advisor to the European Commission.

According to Prof. Piot, “the world did not prepare for [COVID-19]… and we could have prevented probably hundreds of thousands of deaths, if we would have been properly prepared. And the sad thing is, there will be more coming, and so hopefully we will learn our lesson now and not set up the fire brigade when the house is on fire.”

According to Prof. Piot, “The only real exit strategy from this crisis is a vaccine that can be rolled out worldwide. That means producing billions of doses of it, which, in itself, is a huge challenge in terms of manufacturing logistics. And despite the efforts, it is still not even certain that developing a COVID-19 vaccine is possible.”

“The only real exit strategy from this crisis is a #vaccine that can be rolled out worldwide.” Prof. Piot @TheSharedScope #COVID19pandemic #COVID19

Prof. Piot also added in the Science interview that people unwilling to get a COVID-19 vaccine could hold back global efforts to end the pandemic. He noted, “Today there’s also the paradox that some people who owe their lives to vaccines no longer want their children to be vaccinated. That could become a problem if we want to roll out a vaccine against the coronavirus, because if too many people refuse to join, we will never get the pandemic under control.”

2. Prof. Benhur Lee, M.D., Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology

Vaccines are only one part of the solution

Following the release of our article on how the Oxford COVID-19 vaccine works, just part of our series on the frontrunners in the COVID-19 vaccine race, Benhur Lee, M.D., responded to us. A Professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, New York, Prof. Lee is passionate about science communication and mentoring. In February 2020, he was elected as a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology. 

In his tweet, Prof. Lee opines that the pandemic will not just end with a vaccine, as a true end to the pandemic will hinge on many different therapies and vaccines being available. 

The vaccine race isn’t what we should be focused on, he says — rather, it’s the safety of the vaccine that should get more attention.

It is very important to ensure that a vaccine is safe and effective before it is released onto the market. This is vital to prevent incidents like the Cutter Incident of 1955 – where 200,000 children in the US received a defective polio vaccine

It is very important to ensure that a #vaccine is safe and effective before it is released onto the market. — @TheSharedScope

3. Scott Gottlieb, M.D., Former FDA Head

COVID-19 needs a uniform response; will make flu season worse

Scott Gottlieb, M.D., is a physician who served as the 23rd Commissioner of the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Dr. Gottlieb can frequently be seen on news media contributing his expert insights as former head of the FDA.  On Twitter, he notes the differences between various countries’ and states’ approaches to managing the pandemic. According to him, “without a more uniform U.S. approach, it’ll be harder [to contain the virus].”

“Without a more uniform U.S. approach, it’ll be harder [to contain #COVID19].” — Scott Gottlieb, former head of FDA @TheSharedScope #COVID19pandemic

In his tweets, he has also raised a problem the US will face – the onset of flu season. According to Scott, the US will have to contend with both COVID-19 and the flu circulating during the winter season – a double-whammy of respiratory infections, and a challenge the US has still not faced. In response to this, manufacturers have increased production of the influenza vaccines in anticipation of a higher demand. This way, more people can get the flu vaccines and be protected against it, minimizing a flu-related epidemic, so the focus can remain on the COVID-19 pandemic.

4. Paul Bleicher, M.D., Ph.D.

A new post-pandemic lifestyle will emerge

Dr. Paul Bleicher is strategic advisor and former CEO of Optum Labs, and previously served on the faculty at Harvard Medical School. In a futuristic essay written as a lecture to Harvard medical students in 2042, Dr. Bleicher discusses the future of COVID-19 and what life will be like just a few decades from now. His essay is quite unique as he predicts that, in 2042, COVID-19 will be “one of the five human coronaviruses that cause 25% of the world’s common colds.” The article predicts that people would become exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus repeatedly for years, until their long-term immune memory of the virus strengthens to then fight it off — just like the seasonal flu.

If COVID-19 becomes as commonplace as the seasonal flu, as predicted by Dr. Paul Bleicher, virtual meetings and daily infection management will remain mainstays of daily life. #COVID19 @TheSharedScope

Dr. Bleicher’s forward-thinking article also discusses a post-pandemic lifestyle filled with virtual meetings and daily infection management. 

5. Dr Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

A COVID-19 vaccine could be ready by the end of the year

Dr. Fauci is a physician and immunologist who has served as the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) since 1984. He is currently leading the White House Coronavirus Task Force which addresses the U.S. federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Fauci has been a well-respected science advisor to six U.S. presidents. He has made significant contributions to the HIV/AIDS crisis, campaigning to make unapproved drugs available to patients even as clinical trials continued. He also worked on the U.S. response to Zika virus and Ebola outbreaks. Dr. Fauci has a reputation of speaking the truth at all times, without sugar-coating it.

In a July 10, 2020 interview with the Financial Times, Dr. Fauci maintains that he doesn’t “think it’s an exaggeration to say we have a serious ongoing problem, right now, as we speak,” regarding COVID-19. He discloses that he is worried about the slope of the curve, which still looks like it’s exponential. When asked about the real problem with COVID-19, he reveals that the spread of distrust and misinformation makes it harder to control the problem.

Distrust and misinformation regarding #COVID19 make it harder to control the problem. — Dr. Anthony Fauci @TheSharedScope

In the interview, FT asked Dr. Fauci for a realistic timeline for a COVID-19 vaccine. His response: “barring any glitches, bumps in the road or potholes, one could be ready by the end of the year.” Dr. Fauci insists that he is “in total favor for pushing for the success of multiple candidates… The world needs multiple successes, so that different companies can use their resources to produce vaccines to make it available throughout the world and not just for the rich countries.”

Dr. Fauci highlights that developing a vaccine that passes all clinical trials is just the first step to a number of other problems. These problems on the road to a vaccine to be used by the entire world include: mass manufacturing, affordability, vaccine use, and availability to the minority groups and the vulnerable.

You can visit Financial Times to read the full interview with Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Conclusion

Will COVID-19 disappear after this year, or will it become #endemic and cause infection in subsequent years? The truth is, there is only one way to know – to wait, and see. #COVID19 @TheSharedScope

As you can probably tell from the varying expert opinions above, there is no right answer regarding the future of COVID-19. Will it disappear after this year, or will it become endemic and cause infection every year going forward? The truth is, there is only one way to know – to wait, and watch. 

This post was written by Nidhi Parekh of The Shared Microscope. Check out The Shared Microscope on TwitterFacebook, or Instagram for more fun and informative illustrations of different scientific concepts.

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