COVID-19 is known to cause life-threatening, and sometimes fatal, outcomes today. But in the future, contracting the virus may be akin to coming down with a common childhood cold.
Using data from other human coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-1, researchers from Emory University and Pennsylvania State University have determined that, eventually, COVID-19 will resemble other common childhood infections. They published their findings Tuesday in the journal Science.
“What we see with other coronaviruses is that people will get the virus for the first time as a child, and then they may get it again as an adult multiple times,” explained lead study author Jennie S. Lavine, a post-doc researcher at Emory. “But — and this is true for many infections — our first exposure is the most severe because we have no prior immunity to it.”
COVID-19 will likely manifest with mild symptoms in childhood, such as light sniffles, while in adulthood, your previously exposed immune system will be able to fight the virus off before it replicates internally, meaning no symptoms or infection will appear.
The researchers’ analysis looked at virus data qualitatively, rather than quantitatively, so researchers say it’s not yet known when COVID-19 will become a run-of-the-mill, non-fatal infection.
For that to happen, herd immunity is required, which can be achieved when large swaths of the population contract the virus or are vaccinated against it. The latter scenario would involve far fewer lives lost.
“Getting first exposure to happen by vaccination is really the ideal way to get to this endemic state, and how fast we get there is determined by how fast we get people vaccinated,” Lavine explained.
As of Thursday, more than 11 million people in the U.S. had received a first dose of the Pfizer or Moderna coronavirus vaccines, according to CDC data. Over 30 million vaccines have been distributed thus far.