The race between vaccinations and new variant strains won’t end until Covid-19 has touched almost everyone.

By Michelle Fay Cortez originally published in Bloomberg News on September 12, 2021

For anyone hoping to see light at the end of the Covid-19 tunnel over the next three to six months, scientists have some bad news: Brace for more of what we’ve already been through. 

Outbreaks will close schools and cancel classes. Vaccinated nursing home residents will face renewed fears of infection. Workers will weigh the danger of returning to the office as hospitals are overwhelmed, once again.

Almost everyone will be either infected or vaccinated before the pandemic ends, experts agree. Maybe both. An unlucky few will contract the virus more than once. The race between the waves of transmission that lead to  new variants and the battle to get the globe inoculated won’t be over until the coronavirus has touched all of us. 

“I see these continued surges occurring throughout the world,” said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, and an adviser to U.S. President Joe Biden. “Then it will drop, potentially somewhat precipitously,” he said. “And then I think we very easily could see another surge in the fall and winter” of this year, he added. 

With billions of people around the world yet to be vaccinated and little chance now of eliminating the virus, we can expect more outbreaks in classrooms, on public transport and in workplaces over the coming months, as economies push ahead with reopening. Even as immunization rates rise, there will always be people who are vulnerable to the virus: Newborn babies, people who can’t or won’t get inoculated, and those who get vaccinated but suffer breakthrough infections as their protection levels ebb.

The next few months will be rough. One key danger is if a vaccine-resistant variant develops, although it is not the only risk ahead. In the coming months, Bloomberg will explore the pandemic’s long-term impact on economies and markets, the pharmaceutical industry, travel and more.

“We’re going to see hills and valleys, at least for the next several years as we get more vaccine out. That’s going to help. But the challenge is going to be: How big will the hills and valleys be, in terms of their distance?” Osterholm said. “We don’t know. But I can just tell you, this is a coronavirus forest fire that will not stop until it finds all the human wood that it can burn.”

Covid Compared to Other Pandemics

The five well-documented influenza pandemics of the past 130 years offer some blueprint for how Covid might play out, according to Lone Simonsen, an epidemiologist and professor of population health sciences at Roskilde University in Denmark. She is an expert on the ebb and flow of such events.

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