Covid-19 is not going to wipe people out and will instead become similar to other coronaviruses that circulate in the population, experts have said.
The immune system has developed to be able to fight such viruses, and with time people will either be vaccinated or will have had Covid-19 as a child, according to Professor Paul Lehner of the University of Cambridge.
He added that while it is not known, he is taking a “positive viewpoint” and believes the virus will eventually become endemic – constantly maintained at a baseline level throughout the community, like chickenpox in the UK.
Speaking at a Science Media Centre briefing, Wellcome Trust Principal Research Fellow, Prof Lehner, said: “I don’t think this virus is so unusual that it’s going to wipe us out, or make us have to live in the peculiar way we’re living at the moment.
“I’m going to take a positive viewpoint and say, I think it’s going to become similar to the four circulating endemic coronaviruses.
“You’re going to either get vaccinated, or you’re going to catch it when you’re young and young people do not get sick with this virus.”
Prof Lehner said people were concerned about waning immunity, but he thinks there is an underlying background immunity, that means that when people contract Covid-19 in the future they will not get as sick.
He continued: “I think this is something we have to keep an eye on, we have to worry about. But I think we have to be optimistic and say that this is the sort of thing our immune system has developed to deal with, and it will deal with this virus.
“It’s just these extraordinary circumstances because it’s a brand new virus.”
While Mauro Giacca, professor of cardiovascular sciences at King’s College London, said he thought there was a chance the virus could disappear.
He explained: “I am even more optimistic because there is no evidence that these viruses that are so pathogenic, like Mers or Sars, adapt to the human population.
“We have now tens of thousands of sequences from the virus worldwide, and there is no sign of adaptation or mutation that could render it more prone to establish a latent and persistent infection.
“So my optimism is that the virus would disappear.”
The experts also discussed herd immunity as the ultimate way out of the pandemic.
Professor Tracy Hussell, director of the Manchester Collaborative Centre for Inflammation Research, University of Manchester, said a virus works its way out of a community because most of the people become immune to it and that’s called herd immunity.
She added that the sensitivity to herd immunity at the beginning related to letting the virus run free, which in turn would mean that a lot of elderly people died.
“But ultimately, if you have the infection you become immune, hopefully if you have a vaccination you become immune – the endgame is we end up with herd immunity.
“So I think that’s what we will end up with even though we didn’t allow it to happen entirely out of control at the beginning.
“So it’s not a good idea, it is the outcome. We end up immune,” said Prof Hussell.
She added that she thought that in some pockets of people immunity will be long lasting, while in other pockets it might not be, but as long as it hit the cut off point of 60% of the population then herd immunity would be developed.
Prof Hussell said: “I think it would be great if we could bust this myth that herd immunity is a bad thing for the population.
“It’s something that was sort of banded around as a dirty word at the beginning, but that’s what your immune system does – it gives you herd immunity.”