From pandemic to endemic: what does it mean and how do you get there?


Experts have been saying it in all forums for a long time now: we will have to live with the COVID-19 virus for a long time to come. But that does not mean that we will be in a pandemic forever. Sooner or later the disease will pass into the endemic stage. What does it mean and how do you get there? We explain to you.

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According to the European Medicines Agency (EMA), the endemic phase of COVID-19 could arrive much faster than we think. It would be the Omicron variant, dominant in Quebec, which would allow us to achieve it, according to the European authority.

“Nobody knows exactly when we’ll be at the end of the tunnel, but we’ll get there,” Marco Cavaleri, head of vaccine strategy at Amsterdam-based EMA, told a press conference on Tuesday.


AFP

Marco Cavaleri, head of vaccine strategy at the EMA

He argues that the increase in immunity in the population, through vaccination, and natural immunity, through infection, allows us to move “rapidly towards a scenario that will be closer to endemicity”.

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However, we must not forget, he added, that we are still in a pandemic and that at present it is impossible to qualify the virus as endemic, like the flu, for example.

What is an endemic?

But what does it mean, exactly, a virus that becomes endemic? From an epidemiological point of view, it is when the situation is stable, in terms of the number of infections, but also the impacts on our way of life and on our health system.

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“The idea is to end up with a disease that will not overload our health system and which will not be too fatal or harmful to the health of individuals. It is also a disease which, in terms of health measures, will not have too much of an impact on our way of life ”, specifies the one who makes videos in which he popularizes COVID-19 on TikTok and Instagram.

Concretely, the objective is that the reproduction rate of the virus, commonly called “R0”, is one, that is to say that an infected person transmits COVID-19 to only one other person, explains Kevin L’Espérance.

How do we do it?

At the risk of repeating ourselves, we will be able to put an end to the pandemic and move on to the endemic phase when everyone is immunized. Of course, it is better to achieve this immunity through vaccination, since the effectiveness of immunity and side effects are more predictable, notes the epidemiologist candidate for a doctorate in public health.

It can also be reached by natural infection. This scenario is less desirable, however, because of the risks of the disease and the varying effectiveness of immunity from person to person.


Photo QMI Agency, Joël Lemay

“Fortunately, here in Quebec, we are well immunized. But this is not the case everywhere in the world and that will always put us at risk of seeing a new variant emerge which could be more dangerous for humans, which would compromise our efforts. [pour] reach more endemic levels, ”he adds.

“All the indicators point to the endemic”

And even if the pandemic seems to drag on, Kevin L’Espérance wants to be reassuring. “All indicators point to [l’endémicité]. There is no reason to believe that one day we will not reach an endemic level. It would be surprising if we still had breaking waves like the one we are experiencing right now. ”

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But when will that day come? The epidemiologist does not dare to comment as the EMA did. But he is optimistic that the situation will eventually improve. “Everything will depend on two factors: the transmissivity of the virus in the population and the immunity of the population.”

However, it is difficult to predict the precise date on which endemicity will be reached.

What will life be like in the endemic phase?

Once we have reached the endemic phase, what will happen to the masks? Will we still have to be screened?

• Read also: Omicron variant: better to wear an N95 mask

That too is hard to say, knowing that none of us have experienced this kind of situation before.

Kevin L’Espérance believes that the masks will remain in the habits, if only for the symptomatic people. “It’s a matter of respect,” he said.


AFP

He also believes that the screening tests will remain and be refined enough to be easier to use and to allow a faster result to be obtained.

“There are measures, certainly, which will remain, he adds. What is normal? We want to compare ourselves to how we lived with pre-pandemic, but humans have had to and have been able to adapt to new normalities over time, and that’s what we’re going to have to do. It’s hard to predict how our lifestyle will change. ”

– With AFP

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