When is a Pandemic Over?

Image Courtesy of the Action Institute

Image Courtesy of the Action Institute

Campbell Portland, Freelance Writer

COVID-19 was initially reported to the WHO on December 31, 2019 with cases completely concentrated in Wuhan, China. On January 30, 2020, the WHO declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global health emergency. COVID-19’s classification was updated to pandemic levels in March 2020 by the World Health Organization. Cases have been on the rise for months, and though no end has been in sight for months, with the development of Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, the end is coming nearer. Many different claims have been made and reported by professionals and others as to when life will return to “normal” but timelines tend to not match up. When is a pandemic officially over and how can we get there the fastest?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a pandemic is an event in which a disease spreads across several countries and affects a large number of people. Pandemics are only when the virus is no longer prevalent throughout the world or in multiple countries/regions (WHO). The most common step to combat epidemics and pandemics similar to COVID-19 is the development of herd immunity. Herd immunity occurs when enough people in a population have developed long-lasting immunity to a virus or disease, either through infections or vaccinations. With the novel Coronavirus specifically, it is likely to come from vaccines more than immunity after infection because there have been cases of re-infection with COVID-19. Stated by the World Health Organization, the percentage of people who need to be immune in order to achieve herd immunity varies with each disease. For example, herd immunity against measles requires about 95% of a population to be vaccinated. The remaining 5% will be protected by the fact that measles will not spread among those who are vaccinated. For polio, the threshold is about 80%. The fraction of the population that must be vaccinated against COVID-19 to begin inducing herd immunity is not yet known. According to TedEd, it is likely that the CDC will declare the COVID-19 pandemic over when approximately 40-90% of individuals have been vaccinated, because no pandemic has needed more than 90% of the population to be vaccinated for herd immunity to kick in, but until the fraction of the population needed to be “immune” from COVID-19 to stop the spread is known, no specific estimates can be made. 

Though vaccines are the safest way to achieve herd immunity, the vaccine is not being distributed everywhere yet and stocks are likely to begin to dwindle as vaccines are used. If you are unable to get a vaccine at this time, the best way that you can contribute to the development of herd immunity is to follow all rules and regulations set forth by the CDC, WHO, and your local legislature to protect yourself and others from the virus. Making sure to make responsible and safe choices will allow for the fastest world-wide recovery from the pandemic and will allow for life to return to “normal” as fast as possible.