COVID-19 is 'here to stay' and won't be wiped out any time soon, experts say

Published June 22, 2021 7:33 p.m. ET

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TORONTO -- As COVID-19 case counts dwindle, experts warn that COVID-19 will linger even after the majority of adults are fully immunized—but outbreaks could be far less devastating.

"The virus is going to be with us long-term, I think it's here to stay," said Dr. Anna Banerji, infectious disease expert with the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health.

Experts point to the 1918 influenza pandemic as an example of a virus that, a century later, has not completely vanished.

"Some version of that virus is still hanging around, in different forms, it's mutated in different ways," said Dr. Fahad Razak, internist with St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.

"Given the degree of spread of the current COVID-19 pandemic, I think most people expect that some form of it will hang around perpetually."

Toronto Western Hospital declared a COVID-19 outbreak Monday, in which some of those infected had received two doses of vaccine. 

"We're still going to see some disease transmitted through those who've been immunized already, but they're likely to to be asymptomatic, or have very few symptoms," said Dr. Dale Kalina, infectious disease doctor with Joseph Brant Hospital.

"But it is important to recognize that it’s those who have not been vaccinated who are going to bear the brunt of the disease."

Outbreaks causing more significant illness could still occur in groups and communities with low vaccination rates, experts point out. 

Children younger than 12 cannot currently be immunized in Canada and will remain at risk at catching the virus, said Dr. Banerji. 

"The under-12 population, it’s going to circulate in that population. In general it's going to be mild, mainly runny nose, sore throat or asymptomatic, but occasionally you're going to get a child that gets very sick."

Establishing herd immunity among eligible adults, doctors say, will be key to protecting those who can't be vaccinated—including with potential booster shots down the road. 

"Nobody has a crystal ball, but there’s an expectation that we will need boosters," said Dr. Razak. That added layer of protection, he said, could address any mutations in the virus and also combat any waning immunity. 

At this point though, experts say a double dose of the existing vaccine is the best weapon against the virus—which will likely not vanish any time soon. 

"There will be some semblance of COVID in Canada for years to come," said Dr. Kalina.

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