World Health Organisation experts do not believe that the coronavirus pandemic is the "big one". They do, however, believe that the world will need to learn to live with COVID-19. Professor David Heymann, chair of WHO's strategic and technical advisory group for infectious hazards says that the destiny of the virus to become endemic.
Head of WHO emergencies program Dr Mike Ryan said the next pandemic may be more severe. "This pandemic has been very severe... it has affected every corner of this planet. But this is not necessarily the big one," he said during WHO's final media briefing for 2020. He added that this is a wake-up call and that we are still learning to do things better including science, logistics, training and governance.
"We live in an increasingly complex global society. These threats will continue. If there is one thing we need to take from this pandemic, with all of the tragedy and loss, is we need to get our act together. We need to honour those we've lost by getting better at what we do every day," said Ryan.
Heymann said that the world hopes for herd immunity and that transmission would decrease if enough people were immune. He said that the concept of herd immunity has been misunderstood. "It appears the destiny of SARS-CoV-2 [Covid-19] is to become endemic, as have four other human coronaviruses, and that it will continue to mutate as it reproduces in human cells, especially in areas of more intense admission. Fortunately, we have tools to save lives, and these in combination with good public health will permit us to learn to live with Covid-19," he said.
Ryan said that the likely scenario is that the virus would become another endemic that will remain somewhat of a threat but a very low-level one at that, depending on an effective global vaccination programme. He stated that the first goal of the vaccine is to save lives and protect the vulnerable. Only after that will we deal with the moonshot of eliminating the virus, he added.
Chief scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan said in the briefing that vaccination does not mean stopping public health measures such as social distancing.
WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the end of the year is the time to reflect on the toll the pandemic has taken. "New ground has been broken, not least with the extraordinary cooperation between the private and public sector in this pandemic. And in recent weeks, safe and effective vaccine rollout has started in a number of countries, which is an incredible scientific achievement. This is fantastic, but WHO will not rest until those in need everywhere have access to the new vaccines and are protected," he said.