Dr. Tony Fauci is a national hero and was a wonderful mentor to me during my training. There is no one I respect more; however, I have to disagree with his recent statement suggesting that the world will be forever changed and “never get back to normal” after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pandemics of highly contagious and fatal respiratory illnesses have occurred throughout human existence. Without exception, every one has eventually “burned” itself out. This occurred despite most not having either a vaccine or even a drug to treat these infections.
The pandemics that are most often discussed are the 1918 “Spanish” flu and the 2009 “swine” flu. In 1918 medical care for those with influenza was almost nonexistent and many patients died in the street without hospitalization. In 2009, vaccines were developed for the infection, but became available very late in the course of the pandemic.
In both of these cases, despite the deaths and social upheaval, life returned to normal within a year. People did not become so afraid of the flu that they altered their lifestyle because of concerns over the infection.
Why does this happen? It happens because an infection that goes through the human population basically does two things; individuals who are genetically susceptible quickly succumbed to the infection while the majority of individuals seem with effective immunity are protected. Most of the protected move forward without concern that the infection will cause them illness again.
Although there have been issues raised about the duration of immunity after COVID-19, there’s no doubt that immunity does occur. While the immunity may not be complete after a year or two, it should be strong enough that any infection a person gets is attenuated, or lessened compared to the infections are seeing now. This would also mean that these individuals would not shed virus and be contagious to the same extent that they are at this time.
In addition, if we are able to develop a few drugs that effectively treat these infections that could lower the death rate to a point that people no longer concerned. Even without a totally effective flu vaccine, and with up to 60,000 deaths a year from influenza, people continued to live and travel without fear from a future flu pandemic.
I believe that within 3 to 6 months most people will view this pandemic as a remote event, although many will remain significantly traumatizing. People will go back to their normal lives and activities because it’s human nature. While there may be some clinical “echoes” of this initial COVID-19 pandemic, there will be nothing anywhere near comparable to what we now observe.
We need to remember a few things as this pandemic resolves. Life will get back to normal and that is a good thing. Activities should increase over the next 6-12 months. Look at it as the reward for the incredible sacrifices made over the past few months. We should also never forget how tenuous and precious life remains.
Most importantly, however, we need to move quickly to learn about COVID-19 infection, to develop drugs, and to make sure that we are able to manage coronavirus in the future. We cannot forget this infection like we did with SARS, where after the pandemic there was little focus on the virus and little interest in developing therapeutics.