2020-07-16

What if COVID-19 doesn't end?

All the discussion has been around how to limit new infections, and how to cope for as long as COVID-19 has no cure. It’s been terrible enough, particularly in shockingly incompetent countries like the US. We’ve consoled ourselves with the hope that even if things are terrible now, science is working hard on a vaccine, and even if it takes a year or more, one day we will have one, we get everybody injected, and then the pandemic nightmare is over and we can go back to normal.

Based on recent news, we may have to rethink that plan. If it indeed turns out that antibodies disappear within months from infected people, chances are that antibodies will also disappear from vaccinated people. Which would make vaccination, should a vaccine be found, only effective for a few months.

Which would mean you’d have to re-vaccinate every, say, 6 months. In a country the size of the US, you’d have to vaccinate, say, 200 million people (herd immunity) every 6 months, which means 2 million vaccinations every single business day.

I don’t think that works. And it certainly does not work in poorer countries with less infrastructure.

So there is now a real possibility that COVID-19 will not go away. And even if we were willing to accept the death rate on a permanent basis, it’s hard to believe we could accept the 10x larger number of permanently injured people that results.

Which would mean that the current state of affairs would become permanent:

  • severely curtailed long-distance travel, with long mandatory quarantines upon entry;
  • no large / mass events ever again;
  • far less in-person contact than we’ve been used to as a species;
  • contact tracing and mandatory quarantines as core functions of government, and probably not very gentle ones at that;
  • fewer vacations, with a much smaller range of possible vacation activities;
  • entire industries become non-viable.

Certain? No. Possible? Entirely. We may want to start considering this as a real possibility.