A virus that caused the world to bend on one knee with the kind of restrictions it brought into force, Covid-19 has changed norms around the world in a short span of time. Destruction, death and recession were the plagues that the pandemic caused to happen and while the situation is now much under control compared to what it was when the pandemic had just commenced, one cannot lower their guard. But in a statement that does seem like a ray of light at the end of the gloom, officials say Covid-19 may soon be endemic in India.
What does it mean when a disease becomes endemic and can Covid-19 achieve this status?
Diseases are classified as belonging to either of the three categories: endemic, epidemic and pandemic. An endemic stage of the disease is when people in a certain region or geographical space are infected and suffer from the disease. An example could be Malaria which is endemic to parts of Africa. An epidemic is when there is a sudden outbreak of a disease and people from various regions are affected.
What sets this apart from a pandemic then, you ask. A pandemic is classified by the area where the disease spreads, often across continents and countries and borders.
Now that it is clear what each categorical classification of the disease implies, the reason Covid-19 was classified as pandemic was due to the sheer speed with which it spread across the globe and infected people belonging to several countries and ethnicities. However, the World Health Organisation Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan said in a statement that it appears that India has reached a kind of endemicity when it comes to Covid-19 prevalence.
What will be the result if Covid-19 is endemic to India?
What can one really expect when the deadly virus that was once feared becomes endemic to the country? The WHO says that in this situation, endemicity would mean that people in the country learn to live with the virus. This is indicative of reduced fatality rates. As Swaminathan said in an interview to The Wire, “It’s very feasible we may continue like this, with a few local ups and downs but they are unlikely to be severe and certainly not like the devastating second wave of April-May 2021.” This would essentially mean that though the virus persists, the burden on healthcare infrastructure and death rates would be significantly reduced.
Why does a virus become endemic and does vaccination have a role to play?
Dr Swaminathan’s words have been supported by other public health experts’ claims about the intensity of viruses with the passage of time. Dr Gautam Menon, professor of physics and biology at Ashoka University in an interview with FIT had said “much of modelling would suggest that the intensity of any future third wave should be distinctly less than the intensity we saw in the second wave for multiple reasons.”
Experts also agree that vaccination has much to do with this endemicity and how it spreads. In Dr Gagandeep Kang, virologist’s words “between the vaccination and the horror of the second wave, when we had such a high rate of infection in the country, we are actually not in as bad a position as many other places.”
Vaccination does not provide a fool-proof method by way of which people will not get affected by the disease. However, it does prevent symptomatic disease or severe cases of the disease. As the third wave of Covid-19 is said to be upon us soon, there are populations in several states that still remain unvaccinated. Dr Menon said, “For the future, once we are all vaccinated, we might expect having to take booster shots of the vaccine once every year or two and the occasional flare-up in cases, but nothing like what India saw during its second wave.”
How can Covid-19 be brought to endemic status?
The prospect of the virus being endemic and not something to be feared as much as before is certainly a comforting thought if anything. Speaking of this shift in status from ‘epidemic’ to ‘endemic’, Dr Swaminathan said she thinks this might be helped by vaccinations. Along with this, Covid-19 appropriate behaviour too needs to be followed by the general public. Doing this religiously would mean that in the coming few years, Covid-19 would be similar to a flu.
She added, “We cannot reasonably hope to eliminate or eradicate the virus, but once it becomes endemic, we can learn to live with it.”