The WHO has said calls to treat the coronavirus as endemic are premature as cases are high in some parts of the world.
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic – a new disease that has spread across the world, affecting a large number of people.
The word epidemic comes from the Greek words “pan” meaning “all” and “demos” meaning “people”.
In comparison, an endemic – with the prefix – meaning “in or within” – is the continuous presence of a disease within an area, making its spread more predictable.
Many experts expect that COVID-19 will not be eradicated, and that the disease will become endemic and stay with us, in a milder form.
While the conditions for reclassifying COVID-19 as endemic are not precisely defined, many countries – particularly in Europe – have begun to lift restrictions as they move towards living with the disease.
Last week, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez called on European officials to treat COVID-19 as endemic because of the decline in the death rate.
Classifying COVID-19 as such could mean that fewer resources would be allocated to combat the disease and people would be subjected to less testing because it would no longer be considered a serious public health emergency.
But the World Health Organization (WHO) has said it is too early to treat the coronavirus as endemic as cases are high in some parts of the world.
compared to endemic diseases
There are endemic diseases all around us, from the common cold to more serious diseases including HIV, malaria and tuberculosis.
Epidemiologists, scientists who study the spread of diseases, consider a disease to be endemic when its levels are consistent and predictable. Endemic diseases are persistently present in the population of a particular area.
Below we compare the number of cases and deaths per year from endemic diseases.
For COVID-19 to be endemic, several factors will need to be considered, including how the disease develops as well as what type of immunity people acquire through infection and vaccines.
major omicron version
Like all viruses, the SARS-COV-2 coronavirus has been mutating since it emerged in late 2019.
Mutations — changes in the genetic code — in a virus’s spike protein can affect its ability to infect cells.
Omicron, a more permeable variant that was first discovered in November 2021, has now been found in at least 165 countries and territories worldwide.
This has pushed COVID-19 cases to record highs across the world, with at least 100 countries reporting their highest daily confirmed cases since the start of 2022. There are also an unknown number of people who may have been infected with Omicron but were not tested.
Changes in immunity levels around the world
The WHO predicts that more than half of people in Europe could catch omicron by March, which, combined with higher vaccine rates, should lead to higher levels of immunity.
Herd immunity occurs when a large part of a community becomes immune to a disease through infection or vaccines, preventing the spread of the disease.
As variants become more infectious, the herd immunity threshold increases. This is the reason why the threshold percentage has gradually increased from about 60-70 percent during basic stress to 85 percent with Delta and above 90 percent with Omicron.
Meanwhile, many poor countries that are still waiting for vaccines could go a long way in seeing the end of the pandemic.
According to the latest data from Our World in Data, only 5 percent of people in low-income countries are fully vaccinated.