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What's The Difference Between A Pandemic And An Endemic?

·3-min read

It’s become a question people ask daily: will the coronavirus pandemic be here for the long run?

From the Delta variant to the recent Omicron strain , lockdowns and border closures, our lives have dramatically changed over the last two years.

We’ve had the warning “the next one [pandemic] could be worse” from Dame Sarah Gilbert, one of the scientists who developed the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Even our language is changing to incorporate terms like pingdemic and hybrid working which were added this year to the Collins Dictionary.

So how will we be able to tell when the pandemic is over and whether Covid will just be a part of our daily lives?

Pandemic vs Endemic

So far, the global situation with coronavirus has been described as a pandemic.

But before it could get to that point it would’ve started out as an epidemic.

An epidemic is a sudden increase in the number of cases of people with a disease in a specific geographical area according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a public health body in the United States.

This would’ve been the case with coronavirus when it was first detected.

It spread globally, affecting people across countries and continents, so in March 2020 it was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary definition, a pandemic is a disease that infects many people at one time across communities and regions.

The difference between an epidemic and pandemic is the rate of spread and not the severity of the disease.

The UK has reintroduced pandemic restrictions amidst emergence of the Omicron Covid-19 variant. (Photo: SOPA Images via Getty Images)
The UK has reintroduced pandemic restrictions amidst emergence of the Omicron Covid-19 variant. (Photo: SOPA Images via Getty Images)

Lawrence Young, a virologist at the University of Warwick, says we’re at the point where coronavirus isn’t going away and “we will have to learn to live with it”.

Latest stats show that there have been over 265 million cases of Covid-19 and over five million deaths from coronavirus.

“An endemic is when a disease outbreak is consistently present in a predictable way but limited to a particular country or people,” he says.

Factors like vaccination rates and public health measures will determine whether coronavirus becomes an endemic.

Young mentions it “will take time” and require “a high level of vaccination across the globe” before we reach endemic levels.

Experts believe vaccinations are the key component to the virus stabilising. (Photo: FatCamera via Getty Images)
Experts believe vaccinations are the key component to the virus stabilising. (Photo: FatCamera via Getty Images)

If we do, what we’ll see is a more constant infection rate along with seasonal trends and occasional outbreaks.

Malaria is classed as an endemic in sub-Saharan Africa and Papua New Guinea as examples.

“Different countries will enter an endemic phase at different times depending on virus and population factors like vaccination rates. Poor vaccine coverage will be an important factor.”

Many people will also be wondering whether we should expect to have annual booster jabs. While experts are still unsure on what will happen, Young believes vaccination rates are vital.

“For the foreseeable future it is likely to mean at least an annual jab to top up protective immunity.”

We might not have reached an endemic yet but the one thing that seems more certain is coronavirus will still be around for a while.

This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.

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