Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Class, our word for today is "endemic"

We're hearing the first rumblings about the likelihood that the Covid pandemic is evolving to ultimately become "endemic".  We can add it to the long list of seemingly endless new verbiage we've tossed out to the masses:

And like the wearing of masks, and social distancing, and vaccination, the concept of "endemic" is, well  fraught. 

Public understanding of health and science. 

One of my mantras on this blog   is how important it is for the public to understand and trust what they hear from public health experts and how important it is to keep in mind how more than half of the adults in the US struggle to understand and use basic health and science information.  ( for example see blog post from Jan. 15, 2021 "MRNA Needs a Better Messenger"  or "We are not all in this together: public understanding of health and science in the time of COVID (June 2021).

As a quick example - NSF's decades-long Public Understanding of Science surveys consistently show that US adults struggle with science concepts and information.   About  50% of US adults incorrectly believe that "antibiotics kill viruses as well as bacteria." And in another example, roughly 1/2 of adults agree that "the earliest humans lived at the same time as the dinosaurs. 

So introducing and explaining that Covid 19 is likely here to stay is not going to be an easy lift.  You can only imagine what it will trigger if poorly understood:
  • If it's going to be here like winter flu then so what, why do I have to ...get vaccinated, wear a mask, protect others.....
  • If it's going to be here then what was all this last 18 months for.  What did scientists learn. 
  • Scientists - they don't know what they're talking about.  One minute it's enjoy summer, next it's cover up again!
As Sarah Todd writes in Quartz this week, 
"Endemic diseases, like chicken pox or malaria, are not novel, and the rates of infection 
within a given population are fairly predictable. The Centers for Disease Control and 
Prevention (CDC) says that endemic “refers to the constant presence and/or usual prevalence of a disease or infectious agent in a population within a geographic area.” Speaking with the New York Times this spring, professor of infectious disease epidemiology David Heymann said that becoming endemic was “the natural progression of many infections we have in humans, whether it is tuberculosis or HIV.”"

Writer Ed Young captures what he refers to as the "dispiriting dilemma"  in his Atlantic article "How The Pandemic Now Ends"  CDC now recognizes that the US will not get to herd immunity factoring in Delta's RO.  And thus scientists understand, 

"This means that the “zero COVID” dream of fully stamping out the virus is a fantasy. Instead, the pandemic ends when almost everyone has immunity, preferably because they were vaccinated or alternatively because they were infected and survived. When that happens, the cycle of surges will stop and the pandemic will peter out. The new coronavirus will become endemic—a recurring part of our lives like its four cousins that cause common colds. It will be less of a problem, not because it has changed but because it is no longer novel and people are no longer immunologically vulnerable."

Young states, "If endemicity is the future, then masks, distancing, and other precautions merely delay exposure to the virus—and to what end?"

So class, how would you explain "endemicity"?



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