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Pandemic of ‘hills and valleys’

From the start of the pandemic, we have used this space to pass along some of the latest science-based guidance from publications, experts and agencies worldwide.

Officials have learned a lot over the past 18 months. Some of their early guidance was so naive it now seems quaint. Remember the push to wash hands vigorously for 30 seconds? How about the promises that the pandemic was just going to go away on its own?

Fast-forward to the present and the messaging is far more focused. There is a better understanding of how the disease is spread, its effects and proven methods to treat it. America is lucky to have three safe and effective vaccines that are free and widely available. Experts agree the ideal solution would be to get everybody vaccinated, but, lately, a weary pessimism has crept into their messaging.

Although a majority of Americans supports COVID-19 vaccines, the minority against them is quite adamant. For those so entrenched, it seems unlikely that anything our leaders say will coax them into getting a jab. Mandates may induce some who sit on the fence, but the edicts face considerable pushback. Realistically, even if every American were fully vaccinated, inoculation rates in much of the world trail so far behind, the pandemic’s end is expected to remain a distant goal.

A sobering article published recently in Fortune Magazine warns that while the next few months will be rough, the pandemic could continue with similar surges for years to come. Scientists agree nearly everyone in the world will either be infected by COVID-19 or vaccinated. The longer the disease circulates, the more opportunities the virus has to mutate, the more likely it will morph into something our vaccines and antibodies cannot protect against. We could wake up some day and find the world back at square one.

“We’re going to see hills and valleys, at least for the next several years as we get more vaccine out,” Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, said in the Fortune article. “That’s going to help. But the challenge is going to be: How big will the hills and valleys be? We don’t know. But I can tell you this coronavirus is a forest fire that will not stop until it finds all the human wood that it can burn.”

No matter how badly we want life to return to normal, COVID-19 is likely to remain a thorn in our sides far longer than we expected. Leaders will need to continue balancing coronavirus risks and health care capacities against the economic and social impacts of shutdowns and mandates.

As individuals, we have no choice but to gauge how much risk we are comfortable with and adapt accordingly.

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