Once Immunity is Widespread, COVID-19 Will Act More Like the Common Cold, Scientists Say

As the states across our region gradually broaden their COVID-19 vaccination programs, an end to the pandemic finally seems to be in sight. Even more comforting, scientists believe that the coronavirus will ultimately be no more of a threat than the common cold.

The virus is here to stay, but once enough adults are immune, through exposure to the virus or vaccine, COVID-19 will lose its ability to overwhelm the adult immune system. 

Eventually, according to a new study published in the journal Science, only children under five will be affected, and even then, they’ll only experience some sniffles, if any symptoms at all. That’s because children are always challenged by pathogens that are new to their bodies, which is one reason why they’re better at fending off COVID-19 than adults, whose immune systems have not been trained to fight it.

The researchers went back over the data from an earlier, relevant study and found that after people catch their first cold, usually between three- and five-years-old, they’ll continue to become infected again and again, boosting their immunity and keeping the viruses circulating. Most importantly, though, they don’t get sick.

A similar future for COVID-19 is likely, the researchers said.

Typically, it takes a virus anywhere from a few years to decades to become a permanent but relatively harmless fixture, or what’s known as an endemic infection. (Think chickenpox.) But vaccines have the potential to significantly speed up that process. An efficient vaccination rollout could shorten the timeline to a year, or even just six months, experts estimate.

Complicating the picture are new variants of the coronavirus. With each new case, the virus has the opportunity to evolve, or mutate. COVID-19 has been spreading so rapidly over much of the last year that the mutations are occurring much faster than scientists expected.

However, the mutations should only slightly impact the timeline. Both Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, the makers of the two vaccines currently authorized for emergency use in the U.S., have said they expect their vaccines to be effective against mutations. However, when this blog post was written, both were considering the possibility of creating a booster for their vaccines, which they said they could do within several weeks.

Both vaccines require two separate doses. A booster would simply add a third shot.

How you can help us

For the last 55 years, NORWESCAP has been helping to support low-income families and individuals across Northwest New Jersey. Today, as our region and country face the threat from COVID-19, that commitment is stronger than ever.

If you’re looking for opportunities to volunteer, donate materials, or otherwise support NORWESCAP’s work during this crisis, call MaryBeth Ringo at 848-459-5882 or email her at Monetary donations may be made here.