Coronavirus is here to stay. But eventually will spread only among children with little effect

US study suggests severity of virus could be downgraded to just a common cold in the near future

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - Students having their passports checked by security before exams at Gems Cambridge International School, in Baniyas. Khushnum Bhandari for The National
Powered by automated translation

The coronavirus is expected to remain in circulation for years, according to new research, but is likely to be downgraded to nothing more than a common cold.

With much of the global adult population expected to be vaccinated in the next year or two, the virus will linger mostly in children, who typically suffer mild symptoms and often none at all.

Research published in the journal Science on Tuesday suggests children will then become immune to Covid-19 and carry that into adulthood.

Both factors should lead to the virus being significantly downgraded in years to come.

Once everyone is exposed to either the virus or vaccine, the adult immune system will be trained to fight the virus and will not be overwhelmed by it, as is the case presently

The study by Emory University in the US state of Georgia worked on a model that explored potential changes in viral transmission and disease severity of emerging human coronaviruses.

It looked at how viruses changed through the transition phase towards the stage at which they were endemic – or commonly seen in society – and considered three separate measures for immune efficacy that wane at different rates.

Scientists concluded all similar coronaviruses elicit immunity with familiar characteristics, with Covid-19 most similar to the common cold.

“The timing of how long it takes to get to this sort of endemic state depends on how quickly the disease is spreading, and how quickly vaccination is rolled out,” said Jennie Lavine, a postdoctoral fellow at Emory University, who led the study.

“So really, the name of the game is getting everyone exposed for the first time to the vaccine as quickly as possible.”

In an endemic state, the virus will remain in circulation but can be controlled. Infections will not increase exponentially and the vast majority of people who come into contact with them will have at least some immunity.

An effective inoculation programme could accelerate Covid-19's endemic state within 12 months and researchers predicted that the virus will be of concern only to those under five in the years ahead.


Abu Dhabi pupils press ahead with exams amid pandemic - in pictures 


Even then symptoms are likely to be mild, or may not even show at all.

Scientists looked at how human beings responded to other coronavirus pathogens such as Sars, Mers and the four other common cold viruses in the past to draw their conclusions.

Dr Kavita Krishnan, who is head of laboratory services at the Premier Diagnostic Centre in Dubai, who was not associated with the study, supported that theory.

“Sars-Cov-2 will eventually become endemic and will be no more of a threat than the common cold, similar to other coronaviruses,” she said.

“The process could be shortened by vaccination-induced immunity, which would limit the number of potential hosts to favour less-virulent versions of the disease.”

Children are constantly exposed to new pathogens as their bodies develop and build immunity.

It is one theory as to why younger people have been better equipped to fend off severe symptoms of Covid-19.

"Once everyone is exposed to either the virus or vaccine, the adult immune system will be trained to fight the virus and will not be overwhelmed by it, as is the case presently," Dr Krishnan said.

“Children are more adept than adults in defence against the virus because they are constantly challenged by pathogens that are new to their bodies.”

Similar research on other coronaviruses, such as the common cold, found a child’s first infection usually occurred before the age of five.

After then, as viruses continue to circulate, children still get infected but do not become ill as their immunity builds.

A similar pattern is expected with Covid-19 in the years ahead.

So far, the UAE has administered almost 1.3 million shots of the Sinopharm and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines since they were approved for use.

On Tuesday, the UAE's leaders appealed to the public to take the shot after cases rose to more than 3,000 for the first time. The country recorded its highest daily cases on Wednesday, with 3,362.

"Once we reach 60 per cent to 70 per cent of the community immunised, either by vaccine or previous Covid infection, the risk of viral transmission will reduce dramatically," said Dr Adel Alsisi, chief medical officer at Prime Hospital, Dubai.

“It is why all government and health authorities are motivating the public to be vaccinated.”