Humans have never been particularly good at eradicating entire viruses, and COVID-19 might not be any different.
More than 19 million people have tested positive for the coronavirus globally, and at least 722,000 have died. In the U.S., nearly 5 million people have tested positive and more than 160,000 have died. While scientists are racing to find a cure for the virus, there’s a chance COVID-19 will never fully go away — with or without a vaccine.
Vineet Menachery, a coronavirus researcher at the University of Texas Medical Branch, told NPR’s Weekend Edition that one of the more likely scenarios is that the spread of COVID-19 will eventually be slowed as a result of herd immunity. He said that he’d be surprised “if we’re still wearing masks and 6-feet distancing in two or three years” and that in time, the virus could become no more serious than the common cold.
The first thing to remember is that we haven’t been successful at eradicating many viruses at all. Really the lone exception is smallpox, but many of these viruses exist not only in the human population but in animal populations. So coronaviruses may be removed from the human population, like SARS coronavirus in 2002, but we know that those viruses or viruses that are similar to it still exist in nature and at any time they may gain the tools to reemerge in humans again.