The future of COVID-19 is likely to mirror the flu, expert says

People are likely to need yearly shots for COVID-19 like they do with the flu in the future.
People are likely to need yearly shots for COVID-19 like they do with the flu in the future. Photo credit Getty Images

COVID-19 is here to stay. It is never going away.

And as the COVID-19 pandemic stretches into nearly two years, some health experts are evaluating how to contextualize the virus, and how it will be referred to in the years ahead.

Endemic has different definitions and can change contextually, according to Dr. Andrew Noymer, an associate professor of population, health and disease prevention at UC Irvine on KCBS Radio's "Ask an Expert" on Thursday with Holly Quan and Eric Thomas.

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But the definition that most likely applies to the current situation, is comparing it to influenza, "where it's no longer a brand new, emerging pandemic," he said. "But it's just something that we have, year in and year out."

The virus will still be cyclical, with highs and lows in terms of cases. "It's really that sense of the word, endemic, that COVID-19 is headed," he said.

Over time, the disease will become milder, but this can take years. Even after centuries, people can still occasionally die from the flu, said Noymer.
It’s still difficult to tell what that future will look like.

Travel, particularly international travel, will continue to be in flux likely for the next 12 to 24 months, said Noymer. Right now, people still need to adhere to guidelines and testing in order to visit other countries. "In the long run they’re going to find ways to make sure that visitors can keep coming," he said.

Testing upon arrival and departure is likely to become integrated into travel procedures, while quarantining might get fazed out, unless someone tests positive. "That's not sustainable," he said.

It’s also likely that people will start getting annual shots for COVID-19, like they do with the flu. "It's a possibility that can’t be ruled out," said Noymer.

The hope is that public health officials will be able to better respond to changes in the virus going forward, as opposed to when the pandemic first broke out.

"It's easier said than done, the task that public health has in front of it," he said. A lot of people are still refusing to get vaccinated, which is a major challenge. "We live in a free society, and I'm not advocating compulsory vaccination for every citizen," said Noymer.

"Some people, I believe, are not persuadable," he said.