KEY POINTS

  • The world must learn to deal with COVID-19 forever, says leading epidemiologist Dr. Michael Osterholm
  • Long-term strategies to get the virus under control will require safe and reliable vaccinations
  • Osterholm compares COVID-19 to a forest fire that will keep spreading so long as it has "human wood" to burn
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Renowned epidemiologist Dr. Michael Osterholm affirms the growing medical consensus that COVID-19 will never be eradicated in the U.S., or anywhere else on the planet, so long as it has "human wood" to burn.

"We will be dealing with this virus forever," said Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, in an interview with MarketWatch.

Osterman added, "the whole world is going to be experiencing COVID-19 ‘til the end of time. We’re not going to be vaccinating our way out of this to eight-plus billion people in the world right now."

Osterholm also cautioned the world must adapt to the grim reality COVID-19 is here to stay.

"We’ve really got to come to grips with actually living with this virus, for at least my lifetime,” he said, “and at the same time, it doesn’t mean we can’t do a lot about it.”

Coping with COVID-19 will mean mass vaccinations. Osterholm said effective, safe and somewhat durable vaccines will be critical tools in fighting SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2), the virus that causes COVID-19. Routine revaccinations, like those for the flu, will be necessary to develop durable immunity to the virus.

Osterholm described the global COVID-19 pandemic as a forest fire roaring full steam ahead because it has ample "human wood" to burn. So long as there are new hosts, SARS-CoV-2 will continue to infect people.

The U.S. is currently undergoing spikes in cases where human mitigation strategies ended, "or they’re not adhering to them,” Osterholm said. “… This is just one constant pressure that’s occurring."

Osterholm contends the U.S. has failed in its efforts to control the spread of the disease because it "declared victory over the virus when we had no business doing so." The result is more than 4.4 million cases and 151,000 deaths, according to Thursday's latest figures from Johns Hopkins University.

"It’s like a fire crew," he noted. “I only put out half the forest fire but you know, I put out half so we’re done. And then look what happened. It’s burned more acres since we gave up than it did before we gave up."

Osterholm's views are similar to those of Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). On July 22, Fauci said it's unlikely COVID-19 will ever be eradicated. He believes global cooperation to combat COVID-19, however, will bring the virus down to “low levels."

“I think with a combination of good public health measures, a degree of global herd immunity and a good vaccine, which I do hope and feel cautiously optimistic that we will get, I think when we put all three of those together, we will get control of this, whether it’s this year or next year. I’m not certain,” he said.

But, “I don’t really see us eradicating it.”