In an interview with Business Insider, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases, said he believes that Americans may be able to return to their pre-coronavirus lifestyles—if certain public health measures are taken—as early as the end of 2021.
Fauci says epidemic could be over in 2021
During the interview, Fauci said, "I believe that by the time we get to the end of 2021, if everyone gets vaccinated and we continue to implement the public-health measures that I have been talking about incessantly over the last several months," that the United States could "get to the point where the level of [coronavirus] will be so low, and maybe even, you know, close to absent."
Fauci said he expects a vaccine against the novel coronavirus will be ready by the end of 2020. But he explained that, once a vaccine is created, it will then take time to make and distribute enough doses to vaccinate the hundreds of millions of people who live in the United States.
"We may not completely eliminate [the coronavirus], but if you get it down to such a very low level, and enough of the population is protected—either by a vaccine or by previously having been infected—then you'll develop a degree of herd immunity that you won't have an outbreak," Fauci said. He added that it's "reasonable" such a situation could occur by the end of 2021 or in the spring of 2022. However, Fauci stressed that there has to be a combination of both vaccinations and adherence to public health measures, such as wearing a mask and frequently washing one's hands. Fauci said that the "intensity of the public-health measures would depend on the level of infection in the community."
"If there's almost no infection in the community, together with the vaccine, you might want to be able to say 'I can safely congregate with people,'" Fauci said.
'We may be surprised again'
Other experts also have suggested that the novel coronavirus may never fully be eliminated—and some believe that doing so shouldn't be a public health goal.
Axios reports that "elimination" of the coronavirus doesn't mean the virus is entirely eradicated. Instead, it means that there is no sustained community transmission, and if sporadic cases of the virus arise, they can be quickly eliminated.
Simon Thornley, an epidemiologist at the University of Auckland, has argued against trying to eliminate the virus. "Is it worth it? To me, it's a resounding no," he said.
Instead, he recommends implementing measures to protect hospital and intensive care capabilities as well as those most vulnerable to the coronavirus, while continuing to allow people to return to work and school.
Yvonne Maldonado, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Stanford University, said it's possible America's coronavirus epidemic will follow a similar pattern to the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic. During that epidemic, the flu hit the United States in the spring of 1918, the fall of 1918, and then once more in the spring of 1919. In total, the Spanish Flu killed around 675,000 Americans.
Ultimately, when it comes to how the coronavirus will progress in the future, "nobody knows" what will happen, Catherine Troisi, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, said. "This virus has surprised us on many fronts, and we may be surprised again" (Kelley, "Changing America," The Hill, 9/18; Walsh, Axios, 9/19; Romero et. al., New York Times, 9/20; Brueck, Business Insider, 9/21).