Public Health

When Will COVID-19 End in the U.S.?

Khang T. Vuong, MHA08 Oct 2021

Over the summer, there was a significant drop in cases of COVID-19 nationwide, thanks to the rapid development and distribution of safe and effective vaccines. Many people hoped this meant the end of the pandemic was near as restrictions lifted, and life felt a little more normal. 

Unfortunately, the Delta variant concerns scientists who predict that the next few months might bring more of what we have already seen. New predictions from experts cite 90-95% of the population will need some degree of immunity before the pandemic is over, whether it’s natural or from vaccination.

Current COVID-19 Situation

As of October 2021, COVID-19 cases are trending downward. The 7-day average for COVID-19 cases is 99,669.

How Vaccinations Impact the End of COVID-19

As of October 2021, 66 percent of people over 12 years old in the United States are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and about 76 percent of adults have received at least one shot. The vaccination drive in the U.S. initially led to a decline in new cases in the majority of states. Still, with new variants on the rise, we might see additional spikes in COVID-19 cases nationwide.

The end of the COVID-19 pandemic depends on vaccination and the spread of the virus. As people get vaccinated or contract COVID-19, the sooner herd immunity will be reached, and the COVID-19 pandemic will end. Vaccination prevents infection, which will reduce the spread of COVID-19 and slow the emergence of new, more dangerous variants. To end the COVID-19 pandemic, mask up and get vaccinated when possible.

Number of People Vaccinated In the U.S.

COVID-19 Vaccine Booster Shots

According to the CDC, COVID-19 Vaccine booster shots are available for the following Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine recipients who completed their initial series at least six months ago and are:

How COVID-19 Variants Effect When the Pandemic Will End

Viruses mutate as they spread, resulting in new variants of COVID-19. Not all variants are problematic, but some are more infectious and can cause more severe illnesses than others. The problem with COVID-19 variants is that we do not know which variants we are protected against through vaccination. At this time, all Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized vaccines are effective against hospitalization and death, but they do not necessarily prevent the spread of COVID-19.

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Waning Immunity

Another cause for concern is waning immunity, the decline of antibodies in the body, from COVID-19 vaccination. The only way to maintain a high level of immunity is a booster shot or from a COVID-19 infection; this means as immunity continues to decline, people can potentially get reinfected with the virus. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved a third dose of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine and the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine for immunocompromised individuals. Moving forward, it is likely a third dose will be approved for all individuals six to eight months after the initial vaccination.

A New Normal

It may also be possible that COVID-19 is here to stay. Restaurants and other public places have started requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination for entry, and it does not look like mask mandates will be lifted anytime soon. The next few months will be critical in determining if we can end the pandemic entirely.

Updated Mask Mandates in Each State: October 2021

As the Delta variant spreads rapidly among those who have not received the COVID-19 vaccine, some states have reintroduced the mask mandate to differing degrees. 

Looking at Past Pandemics

Many researchers believe we may never actually see the “end” of COVID-19, but instead, COVID-19 will become an endemic virus, like the flu, meaning it’ll circulate even when the pandemic “ends.” This is based on experiences from the last four pandemics, H1N1, H2N2, H3N2, and the Spanish Flu. These pandemics all ended (and still circulate today) because these viruses went through a transition where they became milder illnesses. 

Depending on the speed to reach herd immunity via vaccination or natural infection, each state will vary. Once a state reaches herd immunity, cases will likely be low enough for a return to normal life.

When Will COVID-19 End?

The COVID-19 pandemic can be considered “over” when there are very low levels of infections, hospitalizations and when everyone feels like they can lead a normal life by being in public without masks and attending live events without worry. Communities, states, and countries will reach an “end” at different times based on the population’s level of commitment to following guidelines and the area’s access to vaccinations. 

With the fourth wave of COVID-19 in full effect, it is impossible to predict a definite end date. Below, we go into greater detail on each of the main factors that impact an area’s ability to get back to everyday life and past the COVID-19 pandemic.

Two important factors in determining the epidemiological end date of the COVID-19 Pandemic

1. The Number of People Who Receive the COVID-19 Vaccine

According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), the number one factor that will determine how quickly we can put an end to the pandemic is the number of people who will be willing to get the vaccine. Teenagers and young adults or adolescents down to the age of 12 now have access to the vaccine. 

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According to a recent study conducted by the New York Times, epidemiologists believe the true end of the pandemic is not possible until the vaccine is available to all Americans, including those younger than 12 years of age. 

2. How Long Immunity from Vaccine Will Last

Second, according to the CDC, there are currently three authorized vaccines on the market in the U.S. - manufactured by Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson. While Pfizer and Moderna have been reported to have a 95% effectiveness, we still need to see how long the immunity effect will last after a large percentage of the population is vaccinated. 

The Biden Administration recently announced a booster shot plan to provide third doses of an mRNA vaccine to Americans. The rationale is that a third shot would elicit a strong secondary immune response against COVID-19 infection. Several studies are currently being conducted to determine the length of immunity from the initial doses.

What Herd Immunity is, and Why it Matters 

Herd immunity means we have enough people either protected from getting the virus or that have already contracted the virus so we can control any outbreaks to isolated events.

There are different types of herd immunity: 

  • Nationwide herd immunity: In this case, most of the population is well protected so that the country experiences, at most, occasional minor flare-ups of the disease. However, this scenario is most likely in smaller countries where immunity to COVID-19 can become uniformly high.
  • Regional herd immunity: Some regions, states, or cities are well protected, while others experience ongoing outbreaks of COVID-19. In large, diverse countries like the United States, this situation is especially easy to imagine.
  • Temporary herd immunity: A population or region achieves herd immunity for some period, but as variants are introduced, against which prior immunity is less effective, a new wave of cases is launched. Another potential trigger for such a wave could come as immunity (particularly natural immunity) wanes. As the number of new cases of COVID-19 falls globally, the rate of emergence of significant variants should also decrease, but some risks will remain.
  • Endemicity: A region that fails to achieve herd immunity. Endemicity is most likely in places where vaccine access is limited, where few people choose to be vaccinated, if the duration of immunity is short, or variants that reduce vaccine efficacy are widespread. Endemicity might include cyclic, seasonal waves of disease, broadly similar to the flu, or a multi-year cycle of resurgence.

It’sarea’s also important to note that while herd immunity was a popular concept earlier in the pandemic, experts are now saying that herd immunity should not be the goal for the public- vaccination should. The more people who are vaccinated, the quicker we can end the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bottom Line

COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting unvaccinated individuals at this time. The vaccines prove to protect people from severe illness, hospitalization, and death, but not necessarily from infection. While it is difficult to stay hopeful while reading the daily headlines, it is important to remember that vaccination remains the key to ending the COVID-19 pandemic.

If we band together to enforce mask-wearing and social distancing, it is possible we can adapt to a new normal with COVID-19. Be sure to get tested if you are feeling sick and quarantine if you are exposed. A membership with Mira can help you access free at-home COVID tests for your convenience.