These days one of the most common questions I get asked is about how and when the COVID-19 pandemic will end.
More than a year into the declared public health emergency, so-called “pandemic fatigue” has set in. You might even be getting tired of reading newspaper columns about the pandemic – like this one.
It is understandable that people are tired of the constant news about the coronavirus and the behavior changes that have been so critical to controlling its spread. It is understandable for people to want to look past the public health measures that have been in place for so many months now. It is understandable for folks to be frustrated with the challenges of telework (or no work at all), of disruptions to routines, of seemingly so many missed opportunities to gather with family and friends.
For many, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a source of loneliness, sorrow, grief, frustration and even despair. But even amid despair, there is a glimmer of hope.
At the beginning of the pandemic in spring 2020, public health experts predicted a vaccine would be available in 12 to 18 months. Instead, the first COVID-19 vaccine in the United States rolled out in December, with the second close on its heels. To date, more than 40% of the total population has received at least one dose of the vaccine. Meanwhile, more than 26% of the total population is fully vaccinated. Progress is being made rapidly.
There have been bumps in the road. Recently, the third COVID-19 vaccine authorized in the U.S. – administration of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine (which uses a different vaccine technology than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines) – was paused in the U.S. This is to allow time for scientists to investigate an extremely rare (less than 1 per million) condition associated with blood clots. For perspective, the risk of blood clots from COVID-19 itself is much higher. This pause is a good thing. It means that our national (and international) vaccine safety systems are working and are not cutting any corners.
There have been multiple emerging variants caused by mutations in the SARS-CoV2 virus. This was expected, as all viruses mutate to some degree. While it is true that some of these variants appear to transmit more easily and may produce more severe illness, it is also true that they seem responsive to our vaccines, especially the most common United Kingdom B.1.1.7 variant.
It’s hard to answer the question about when or how to expect an end to the pandemic. It is likely that much of 2021 (and perhaps some of 2022) will be devoted to a continuation of vaccination efforts (until we reach community immunity) and public health measures. There will be bumps along the road. But the end is in sight. Like a marathoner, we just need to stay the course until we reach the finish line.
Dr. Matthew A. Clark is a board-certified physician in internal medicine and pediatrics practicing at the Ute Mountain Ute Health Center in Towaoc.