Omicron’s message – we must adapt to living with COVID: George A. Elmaraghy

COLUMBUS, Ohio — COVID-19 is not the worst disease humanity has faced. But it is infecting people everywhere, and the world is susceptible to its awful impacts and the speed of its spread. Every time we think it is under control, news about new variants and infection flares change our perspective. But eventually, all pandemics wane as people develop immunity, and slowly these pandemics become endemic diseases that can be controlled by vaccines and other treatments — but not completely eliminated.

Considering that we have no choice but to live with this disease in the future, the world needs to develop adaptation mechanisms that blend perfection and realism without severely degrading the quality of our life and economic well-being.

What is unique about the COVID-19 pandemic is the way it changed our lives and the speed with which the world acted to develop vaccines and treatments. However, vaccines developed for COVID-19 don’t completely protect us from infection, and they are less effective than vaccines developed in the past for other pandemics, such as those for polio and measles. Also, immunity generated by COVID vaccines starts to wane after about ten weeks following the second dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which makes booster shots vital.

COVID vaccines reduce the chances of getting sick and, if we do sicken, the severity of symptoms is much milder. Also, COVID is different from other pandemics that the world fought in the past because vaccinated people can still contract the disease and pass it on.

These realties have made countries around the world start to accept the fact that eradication of COVID is impossible to accomplish in the near future due to the virus’ ability to mutate and spread. It is expected that over the next few years, COVID-19 will probably transform into a disease that is a fatal threat to the unvaccinated, people with poor health and the elderly, but an annoyance to the rest of the population.

While scientists are working on the next-generation vaccines that target parts of the virus that are less prone to mutate, people are getting tired of repeated lockdowns and quarantines.

George A. Elmaraghy

George A. Elmaraghy is a former Ohio EPA official.

The world needs to find ways to control and minimize the impact of this disease as humans have done with other pandemics. We need to innovate and develop adaptation mechanisms that will allow us to live with endemic COVID-19 without degrading the quality of life and spoiling the world’s economies. Countries have started to realize that measures such as lockdowns, quarantines, school closings and other extreme measures are not appropriate for this kind of endemic disease that most likely will be with us for years to come.

Omicron is a wake-up call to develop additional adaptation options to manage this disease. Examples of these measures include: acting promptly to deal with new variants before they spread; continuing to encourage social distancing; investing in developing and rapidly producing vaccines that deal with new variants; going to extreme lengths to encourage vaccination and testing; making vaccines available to all people in the world, especially to those who are living in developing countries; and taking advantage of all the other tools we have..

George A. Elmaraghy spent most of his career in state government, serving among other roles as chief of the surface water division of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. He currently holds a presidential appointment as commissioner for the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission and is a member of the International Joint Commission Water Quality Board.

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