Duke Health Addresses the COVID-19 Endemic and Ongoing Need for Vaccinations

Seated female patient receives vaccine from standing male health worker

Photo Credit: Duke Health

Health care experts at Duke Health say that vigilance is needed to manage COVID-19 as an endemic virus.

A recent article in Duke Today features infectious prevention specialist and professors from the health system’s network, which includes Duke University School of Medicine, Duke University Health System and Duke Global Health Institute. And the health care experts agree that a COVID-19 endemic essentially means that the pandemic will not end with the virus disappearing. Instead, the expectation is that enough people will gain immune protection from vaccination, leading to less transmission and significantly fewer COVID-19-related hospitalizations and deaths, even as the virus continues to circulate. Experts anticipate COVID-19 being a seasonal virus, much like the flu.

“It’s pretty clear that human behavior is seasonal. It’s still unclear whether COVID itself is going to turn into something seasonal,” said Jonathan Quick, M.D., an adjunct professor of global health at the Duke Global Health Institute. He added, “That’s something to keep our eyes on. The key thing is a level of immunity where basically we can go about our daily lives.”

While the goal is to achieve endemicity and get people back to their normal lives, it’s hard to determine a timeline for when that will happen. Factors that come into play include the strength and duration of immune protection from vaccination, patterns of contact with one another that allow spread, the transmissibility of the virus and the potential new variants like delta and the more recent variant, omicron.

In the article, Christopher Woods, M.D., an infectious disease specialist at Duke Health, said, “I do feel we’re moving into a transition phase in the pandemic, and I do think omicron represents a major move toward endemicity. That’s my optimistic outlook at the moment.”

One of the key messages coming from the experts at Duke Health is that an endemic is not an endgame. It’s not about getting infections down to zero. The delta and omicron variants came about as a result of one of the thousands of mutations and combinations of mutations that SARS-CoV-2 has undergone and continues to undergo. The coronavirus is a global issue, and variants can emerge at any time.

“What we can’t do is drop back into complacency and say, ‘Oh, the war is won.’ This has been too mercurial a virus for that to happen,” Quick explained.

Visit the Duke Health website for more information on the health system’s COVID-19 response and vaccination efforts.