The WHO says calls for treating the coronavirus as endemic are premature as cases remain high in parts of the world.
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic – a new disease that has spread around the world and affects a large number of people.
The term pandemic comes from the Greek word “pan” means “everyone” and “demos” means “people”.
In comparison, endemic – with the prefix meaning “in or inside” – is the constant presence of a disease in a region, which makes its spread more predictable.
Many experts expect that COVID-19 will not be eradicated, but the disease will become endemic and remain with us, in a milder form.
Although the conditions for reclassifying COVID-19 as endemic have not been clearly defined, many countries – especially in Europe – have begun to remove restrictions as they move towards living with the disease.
Last week, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez called on European officials to treat COVID-19 as endemic due to declining mortality.
Classifying COVID-19 as such may mean that fewer resources will be allocated to control the disease and people will be subjected to fewer tests, as it is likely that it will no longer be considered a serious public health emergency.
But the World Health Organization (WHO) says it is too early to treat the coronavirus as endemic, as cases remain high in some parts of the world.
Comparison of endemic diseases
Endemic diseases are all around us, from the common cold to more serious illnesses, including HIV, malaria and tuberculosis.
Epidemiologists, scientists who study the spread of disease, consider the disease endemic when its levels are constant and predictable. Endemic diseases are constantly present in a population within a certain region.
Below we compare the number of cases and deaths per year from endemic diseases.
For COVID-19 to become endemic, several factors must be considered, including how the disease continues to develop, as well as the type of immunity that people acquire through infection and vaccines.
The dominant variant of Omicron
Like all viruses, the SARS-COV-2 coronavirus has mutated since its emergence in late 2019.
Mutations – changes in the genetic code – in the thorn protein of the virus can affect its ability to infect cells.
Omicron, a more portable version, first launched in November 2021, is now available in at least 165 countries and territories around the world.
This has led to record high COVID-19 cases worldwide, with at least 100 countries recording their highest daily confirmed cases of all time since early 2022. There are also an unknown number of people who may have been infected with Omicron, but have not been tested.
Different levels of immunity worldwide
The WHO estimates that more than half of people in Europe can become infected with Omicron by March, which, combined with high vaccine rates, should lead to higher levels of immunity.
Herd immunity occurs when a large part of the community becomes immune to a disease through infection or vaccines, stopping the spread of the disease.
As the variants become more infectious, the herd immunity threshold increases. Therefore, the threshold rate gradually increased from about 60-70 percent during the initial strain to 85 percent in Delta and over 90 percent in Omicron.
Meanwhile, much poorer countries still waiting for vaccines may be far from the end of the pandemic.
Only 5 percent of people in low-income countries are fully vaccinated, according to the latest Our World In Data.