We will update this post as news comes out about the status of the COVID-19 pandemic. This post was last updated on March 17, 2022.
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Two years later, there is cautious optimism that an end to the pandemic is in sight.
When the pandemic is officially over, what’s next? Medical experts say we will enter an endemic phase – similar to the flu. COVID-19 will still be present, but it will not disrupt everyday life.
Board-certified allergist and immunologist and COVID-19 vaccine researcher Purvi Parikh, MD, discussed the difference between a pandemic and endemic in a recent Allergy & Asthma Network webinar.
What is an endemic phase?
An endemic means the COVID-19 surge has stopped. It won’t disappear altogether – the virus will still circulate but it will be mostly contained.
Here are more signs of an endemic phase:
- It may become seasonal, meaning cases will spike at certain times of the year.
- Outbreaks may be restricted to a locality or region.
- Enough people will have immune protection due to vaccination and natural infection. This will result in less transmission, hospitalizations and deaths.
- Treatments such as monoclonal antibodies and COVID-19 antiviral medications will help fight infections that do occur.
It’s important to remember that an endemic phase does not mean the COVID-19 virus will be harmless. The virus will still have the potential to cause hospitalizations and deaths. Further, as the virus spreads, it can mutate into an infection that may be more transmissible and more severe.
Getting the COVID-19 vaccine remains the best protection against the virus and/or severe complications, especially if you have moderate to severe asthma.
What is the difference between an epidemic, pandemic and endemic?
An epidemic, pandemic and endemic are three different stages of disease or virus transmission.
- Epidemic – a widespread surge of a disease or virus in a particular area or region.
- Pandemic – the surge of cases spreads to several countries and potentially around the world.
- Endemic – cases are consistently present but limited to a particular region or season.
Will I need an annual COVID-19 vaccine booster shot?
It’s unknown at this time if an annual COVID-19 vaccine is needed. Medical researchers continue to study the effects of the current COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots.
Questions that need answered: How long will immune protection last? Will an annual booster protect against severe disease and death? Will it provide protection if a new variant comes along?
Dr. Parikh says it is likely there will be an annual vaccination against COVID-19, just like the seasonal flu.
Will I need to wear a mask during an endemic phase?
Many schools and workplaces are discontinuing the requirement of masks in both indoor and outdoor spaces.
It is likely the decision to wear a mask will ultimately be an individual choice.
Some business may still require people to wear masks, though. Public transit may still require patrons to wear masks. Since airplanes, trains and buses are enclosed spaces where disease transmission may be high, you may be required to wear a mask when traveling.
Purvi Parikh, MD, FACAAI is an adult and pediatric allergist and immunologist at Allergy and Asthma Associates of Murray Hill in New York City. She is on faculty as Clinical Assistant Professor in both departments of Medicine and Pediatrics at New York University School of Medicine.