September 25, 2020

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Scientists around the world are working overtime to answer everyone’s questions about the virus that causes COVID-19, and many of those questions come back to timing. How long will it take to get a vaccine? How long does immunity last? And how much longer do we have to live like this?

Megan Scudellari, a science and health journalist, has been talking with scientists around the world all summer about what they’ve been seeing, studying, and discovering about SARS-CoV-2. She shares some key takeaways on immunity, safety, and the longevity of the pandemic.

Main Takeaways:

  • The pandemic will last until enough people are immune (either by having gotten infected or by receiving a vaccine) for us to reach herd immunity. However, it’s still unclear what immunity to this virus will look like. Some virus-borne diseases, like chickenpox, create antibodies that keep you immune for life, while others, like the common cold and the flu, only create short-term immunity. This virus is still too new for us to say what kind of impact exposure to it will have on us, which makes the long-term outlook of the pandemic particularly uncertain. 
  • Public compliance with health policies, like hand washing and social distancing, makes a difference, and there are now numbers to back this up. One study in Mexico City has empirical data that when a certain threshold of people — 70% in this case — follow health and distancing guidelines, the spread of the virus can be slowed dramatically. One of the main hindrances to a society getting back to a more normal lifestyle is our own ability to follow directions.
  • While there are still many unknowns about the virus and how it will play out in the future, scientists now consider some of the worst-case scenarios, such as humans being unable to gain any type of immunity to the virus, unlikely. While nothing can guarantee that we will have a reliable vaccine soon or that our bodies will develop long-term immunity after a single exposure, scientists are hopeful that we’ll be able to increasingly able to function alongside the virus.

More Reading:

  • Read more of what Megan Scudellari has been working on for publications like Nature and IEEE, including articles on everything from “smart masks” to what AI can contribute in helping scientists tackle the virus.
  • It’s too soon to say exactly how long the pandemic will last, but we know it won’t be quick. Check out this list of 100 things to do to pass the time as we continue taking this day by day.
  • While we’re still trying to figure out what the future of the virus looks like, history can tell us something about what our future as a society will look like after this. Check out this article from The Atlantic about how past pandemics have changed the world.

Sci and Tech, coronavirus, COVID-19, Megan Scudellari, pandemic

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