As we hear more experts talk about the COVID-19 global pandemic shifting to an endemic disease, you may be asking yourself how that would affect our daily lives. On the latest episode of the Beaumont HouseCall Podcast, our experts discussed how COVID will make this shift, what factors will shape the transition and how long it will take.
What is the difference between a pandemic and an endemic?
A pandemic occurs when a disease affects a large population internationally or worldwide. On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global pandemic. Examples of other diseases classified as global pandemics throughout history include HIV/AIDS, several strains of the flu and cholera.
An endemic disease typically occurs at a more constant rate in a specific population or geographic area. Other endemic diseases include malaria and the flu.
“I like to think of endemic as another word for stable,” said Dr. Nick Gilpin, Beaumont’s director of Infection Prevention and Epidemiology. “Endemic is not necessarily synonymous with good. For example, malaria is endemic in Africa, but that doesn't mean you want to go out and get malaria.”
Endemic is not necessarily synonymous with good. For example, malaria is endemic in Africa, but that doesn't mean you want to go out and get malaria.Dr. Gilpin
When will COVID-19 become endemic?
While many experts believe that COVID-19 will eventually transition from a pandemic to an endemic, it’s hard to predict when that might happen. The timeline to endemicity depends on factors like immune protection from vaccinations and natural infection, and how the disease continues to spread or mutate in the future.
“We have to look at the endemic point on a global level, not just from the lens of the United States,” said Dr. Asha Shajahan, Beaumont family medicine physician. “Things might be looking better in the U.S., but there’s always the possibility of a more contagious or deadly variant coming out of a country that has lower vaccination rates.”
Dr. Gilpin stressed we shouldn’t mistake the idea of COVID becoming an endemic with the idea of COVID ending. “Even after it becomes endemic, COVID will still exist, and in all likelihood, it will continue to cause severe illness and death,” explained Dr. Gilpin. “It's certainly possible that the waves and surges may get smaller and less severe over time, but it's also possible that new variants might emerge just like we saw with Omicron.”
How can I protect myself against COVID-19 right now?
Even as we start to pivot towards COVID becoming endemic, it’s important to not let your guard down. Vaccines, boosters, widely available tests, effective treatments and prevention methods are still the best protection we have against COVID-19.
“Let's remember that the threat is real and it's here with us today,” Dr. Gilpin said. “The safest way to get to endemic is to continue to do those things to help prevent and mitigate disease around you. Don’t get complacent.”