At a vaccination center in Belgrade, Serbia, March 2021 Zorana Jevtic / Reuters
It is time to say it out loud: the virus behind the COVID-19 pandemic is not going away. SARS-CoV-2 cannot be eradicated, since it is already growing in more than a dozen different animal species. Among humans, global herd immunity, once promoted as a singular solution, is unreachable. Most countries simply don’t have enough vaccines to go around, and even in the lucky few with an ample supply, too many people are refusing to get the shot. As a result, the world will not reach the point where enough people are immune to stop the virus’s spread before the emergence of dangerous variants—ones that are more transmissible, vaccine resistant, and even able to evade current diagnostic tests. Such supervariants could bring the world back to square one. It might be 2020 all over again.
Rather than die out, the virus will likely ping-pong back and forth across the globe for years to come. Some of yesterday’s success stories are now vulnerable to serious outbreaks. Many of these are places that kept the pandemic at bay through tight border controls and excellent testing, tracing, and isolation but have been unable to acquire good vaccines. Witness Taiwan and Vietnam,
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LARRY BRILLIANT is an epidemiologist, CEO of Pandefense Advisory, a firm that helps organizations respond to COVID-19, and Senior Counselor at the Skoll Foundation.
LISA DANZIG is an infectious disease physician, a vaccine expert, and an Adviser at Pandefense Advisory.
KAREN OPPENHEIMER is a global health strategy and operations adviser and a Principal at Pandefense Advisory.
AGASTYA MONDAL is a doctoral student in epidemiology and computational biology at the University of California, Berkeley.
RICK BRIGHT is Senior Vice President of the Rockefeller Foundation and former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services for Preparedness and Response.
W. IAN LIPKIN is Director of the Center for Infection and Immunity and John Snow Professor of Epidemiology at Columbia University, Founding Director of the Global Alliance for Preventing Pandemics, and an Adviser at Pandefense Advisory.