- Vaccine makers have recently said they think the pandemic will finally end in 2022.
- A lead scientist behind AstraZeneca’s vaccine predicted that the coronavirus will likely become similar to the common cold.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Top brass at Moderna and AstraZeneca have recently offered rosy predictions about what’s in store for the coronavirus.
“If you look at the industry-wide expansion of production capacities over the past six months, enough doses should be available by the middle of next year so that everyone on this Earth can be vaccinated,” Stéphane Bancel, the CEO of Moderna, told the Swiss newspaper the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Reuters reported Thursday.
“Those who do not get vaccinated will immunize themselves naturally, because the Delta variant is so contagious,” Bancel added. “In this way we will end up in a situation similar to that of the flu. You can either get vaccinated and have a good winter. Or you don’t do it and risk getting sick and possibly even ending up in hospital.”
In response to a question about when the pandemic would end, Bancel replied, “As of today, in a year, I assume.”
Sarah Gilbert, the scientist who led the team that developed the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, echoed similar sentiments during a Royal Society of Medicine webinar on Wednesday.
“We already live with four different human coronaviruses that we don’t really ever think about very much, and eventually Sars-CoV-2 will become one of those,” Gilbert said, according to the Evening Standard.
Common human coronaviruses, like the one that causes the common cold, typically cause mild-to-moderate upper respiratory illness.
Albert Bourla, Pfizer’s CEO, also commented on the the future of global vaccine distribution this week.
“We will see a billion doses by the end of this year, not in the near future, by the end of this year,” he said in interview with CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Wednesday. “And we will do at least 1 billion doses next year, and I think the facts are speaking for themselves.”
The comments come at a moment when more and more industry and public-health leaders in the US are issuing hopeful messages, despite the recent Delta surge. Though of course, plenty of predictions about the pandemic have been proven wrong before.
What is ‘returning to normal’ anyway?
Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told Insider that Bancel’s projection seems mostly on target.
“This acute phase of the pandemic will likely wind down within 2022,” Adalja said. “As more people have natural immunity and as more people are vaccinated, that’s going to cause the public-health emergency to no longer be in effect for the world – when the virus is unable to cause as much serious disease, hospitalization and death as it has been able to in this phase of the pandemic.”
John Brownstein, an epidemiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital, similarly said he sees “reason to be optimistic that we may be out of the pandemic.”
The dark horse, Brownstein told Insider, is the possibility of a new variant that could evade our vaccines.
“We’ve been surprised by this pandemic over and over again,” he said, adding, “to put any timeframe on it would likely mean that you’d be 100% wrong.”
To that point, Bancel’s predictions about when the pandemic would end have been wrong in the past. In November, Bancel told Insider that he envisioned a return to normal in summer 2021.
Bourla, too, gave a prediction in June – before the spike in infections tied to Delta – that will most likely turn out to be too optimistic. Bourla told CNBC that he thought developed countries could return to normal life by the end of 2021, and the rest of the world in 2022.
Part of the difficulty, though, is that there’s no standard definition of what “returning to normal” means. Many people in the US – including this reporter – envision it as a return to everyday life close to the way Americans were living it in 2019. No need to work from home. Relatively low risk at large gatherings like concerts and weddings. No mask requirements.
Bancel’s definition may be less rigid.
“Is it a return to baseline?” Brownstein asked. “Or is it a new baseline?”
A new normal may be a more realistic target.
“I think that what you’ll see is the normalization of COVID-19 and how people learn to cope with it,” Adalja said. “COVID’s not going anywhere and people are learning to adjust.”
Adalja already has.
“I’m back to my normal life, except I take care of COVID patients,” he said.