COVID-19 May Never Go Away — With Or Without A Vaccine The virus might eventually behave more like the common cold, according to Vineet Menachery, a coronavirus researcher at the University of Texas Medical Branch.

COVID-19 May Never Go Away — With Or Without A Vaccine

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

COVID-19 is probably never going to go away, with or without a vaccine, but that doesn't mean the future will be quite as terrifying as the present is. We are joined now by Dr. Vineet Menachery. He is a coronavirus researcher at the University of Texas Medical Branch, and he explains how we will adapt to this coronavirus moving forward has a lot to do with immunity.

Welcome to the program.

VINEET MENACHERY: Thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So why is it so hard, first of all, to eradicate this virus - specifically coronaviruses?

MENACHERY: The first thing to remember is that we haven't been successful at eradicating many viruses at all. Really, the lone exception is smallpox. But many of these viruses exist not only in human populations, but in animal populations. So coronaviruses may be removed from the human populations, like SARS coronavirus in 2002, but we know that those viruses or viruses that are similar to it still exist in nature. And at any time, they may gain the tools to reemerge in humans again.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: As more people become exposed and build up their immunity against this coronavirus, how will that affect the trajectory of the pandemic? What do you predict with immunity for COVID-19?

MENACHERY: So it's still up in the air. COVID-19 is really unique in a couple of different ways. One, like the common cold coronaviruses, it spreads very easy. But unlike those, it causes this severe disease. What we know about the common cold coronaviruses is that the immunity to those don't actually stay that long. And so what is not clear is if immunity will wane over time and that, in two or three years, you could be exposed and get this virus again, similarly like you get common cold coronaviruses every few years.

On the other end of that, viruses like SARS and MERS - if you get those infections and you overcome them and you recover, generally, your immune response lasts a long time. And so what we don't know with COVID-19 is which of these two poles it may end up at.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So I guess that raises questions, first of all, about a vaccine - how effective it'll be, what kind of immunity we'll get from a vaccine. And the scenarios would be we might get a vaccine that would be something that we would take yearly, like a flu vaccine, or maybe it would be more akin to vaccines that would give you one shot and then you're immune for life. Are those the sort of two options?

MENACHERY: Yeah. I mean, I think there's probably somewhere in between. I think you're looking at a vaccine that - maybe it's not every year, like the flu vaccine, but it may be something like tetanus or those vaccines that you get every two or three years, maybe, or four or five years to boost that immunity that you already have. That would be my expectation on that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So I guess this is the big question. I'm going to ask you to do something that I think doctors don't like to do and scientists don't like to do, which is look into the future. Three to five years from now, will we be wearing masks, keeping 6 feet apart? How will we have to change our behavior to coexist with this virus that isn't going to go away?

MENACHERY: Well, you're right that it's not fun to speculate on that 'cause it's easy to be proven wrong. I'd be surprised if we're still wearing masks and 6-feet distance in two or three years. I think the most likely outcome is that we'll eventually get to herd immunity, and the best way to get to herd immunity is through a vaccine and some certain populations who have already been exposed or will be exposed.

And then the expectation I have is that this virus will actually become the next common cold coronavirus. What we don't know with these common cold coronaviruses is if they went through a similar transition period. So say something like OC43, which is a common cold coronavirus that was originally from cows - it's been historically reported that there was an outbreak associated with the transition of this virus from cows to humans that was very severe disease. And then, after a few years, the virus became just the common cold.

And so in three to five years, it may be that you're still getting COVID-19 in certain populations of people or, you know, every few years. But the expectation is hopefully that it'll just be a common cold and it's something that we can each deal with and it won't lead to hospitalization and, you know, the shutting down of society.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Dr. Vineet Menachery is a virologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch, and he focuses on coronaviruses.

Thank you very much.

MENACHERY: Thank you.

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