What Will Future Look Like With the New Coronavirus?

    15 March 2021

    From VOA Learning English, this is the Health & Lifestyle report.

    Many people have questions about the future of the new coronavirus that has spread worldwide.

    Will an international vaccination campaign, like the one against smallpox, completely stop the virus? Will vaccines work on new variants? Or will the virus stay among us for a long time and change into a mild illness, like the common cold?

    Recently, a group of international experts shared their ideas, predictions and concerns with the Associated Press. Here are some of the things they had to say.

    Doctor T. Jacob John studies viruses and was a leader of India's efforts to fight the viral diseases polio and HIV/AIDS. He predicts that the virus known as SARS-CoV-2 will become yet another infectious disease that humanity learns to live with.

    Doctor John Thayer holds up a sign to signal his station needs more vaccine doses in a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination site at Lumen Field Event Center in Seattle, Washington, March 13, 2021.
    Doctor John Thayer holds up a sign to signal his station needs more vaccine doses in a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination site at Lumen Field Event Center in Seattle, Washington, March 13, 2021.

    Will vaccines work on new variants?

    The coronavirus, however, is changing quickly. New variants are appearing in different countries and present new risks. The more the virus spreads, experts say, the more likely it is that a new variant might be hard to treat or fail to be identified.

    Some of the recently developed vaccines seem less effective against new variants of the virus. For example, the company Novavax recently found that its vaccine did not work as well against mutated versions of the virus found in Britain and South Africa.

    However, since the injections provide some protection, vaccines could still be used to slow or stop the virus from spreading, said Ashley St. John. She studies immune systems at Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore. For now, scientists agree that vaccinating as many people as quickly as possible is important.

    Will the virus stay with us?

    How long the virus will continue to affect people will depend mostly on the strength of the immunity offered by vaccines and natural infections.

    "Are people going to be frequently subject to repeat infections?" asked Jeffrey Shaman. The Columbia University researcher does not have the information to answer that question. Like many researchers, he said chances are small that vaccines will provide lifelong immunity.

    So, people might have to learn to live with COVID-19. But that condition will depend on how long immunity lasts and also how the virus evolves. The question of what happens next concerned Jennie Lavine, a virus researcher at Emory University. She co-wrote a recent study in the publication Science.

    Lavine predicts a good result. After most people have been exposed to the virus — either through vaccination or getting infected — it "will continue to circulate, but will mostly cause only mild illness," like a common cold.

    The co-writer of the study is Ottar Bjornstad. He studies viruses at Pennsylvania State University. He said people who get reinfected with the new coronavirus usually have a weaker form of the sickness.

    The prediction in Lavin and Bjornsad's research is based on studies of how other coronaviruses have acted over time. The researchers claim SAR-CoV-2 will continue to evolve, but not quickly or in major ways.

    The 1918 flu pandemic could help predict how COVID-19 will act. At the time, no vaccines were available. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that a third of the world's population became infected. After infected people either died or developed immunity, the virus stopped spreading quickly. It later mutated into a less serious form, which experts say continues to circulate seasonally.

    Doctor Gagandeep Kang is an infectious disease expert at Christian Medical College at Vellore in southern India. Kang told the AP that the evolution of the virus raises many questions. At what stage does the virus become a new version? Will countries need to re-vaccinate? Or could extra injections be given?

    "These are questions," Kang said, "that you will have to address in the future."

    Some highly infectious diseases have been controlled with vaccines that provide lifelong immunity — such as measles. The spread of measles drops off after many people have been vaccinated. However, unlike measles, she said, children infected with COVID-19 do not always show clear signs of infection. For this reason, they could still infect others.

    That means, she added, countries cannot let their guard down.

    And that's the Health & Lifestyle Report.

    I'm Anna Matteo.

    Aniruddha Ghosal and Christina Larson reported this story from India for the Associated Press. Anna Matteo adapted it for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.


    Words in This Story

    variant –n. something that is different in some way from others of the same kind

    mutate –v. to cause a gene to change and create a new, different quality in a plant or animal

    immunity –n. the power to keep yourself from being affected by a disease

    frequently –adv. happening often

    evolve –v. to change slowly into a different, sometimes, more complex form with different qualities

    circulate –v. to spread from one person or place to another

    mild –adj. not strong or severe

    let their guard down –idiom to stop being careful or concerned about possible risk