How could such a 2023 occur? Several things will have to not happen:
- Right now there’s a lot of discussion about a coronavirus vaccine. While one doesn’t exist, many hope or expect one over this winter. However, the vaccine will take time. To begin with, it’s a hard problem. Nobody has ever built a coronavirus vaccine before. It’ll have to be tested and trialled for human safety – and it will have to actually be effective. Then it needs to be produced at enormous scale, hundreds of millions of doses. Then distributed worldwide. This assumes people only need one dose; given recent reinfection stories, we might need doses every year, or more frequently still, which amplifies production and distribution challenges. On top of that, this rosy view assumes enough people will actually take the vaccine. Given the persistent antivax movement, the politicization of science in many nations, and some popular skepticism of medical authorities… it could take a while for an as yet uninvented vaccine to actually do its job. Months or years.
- COVID-19 will have to not mutate into less virulent forms. Viruses mutate, like all life forms, and it’s possible that this awful thing could develop into something less terrible.
- An effective treatment for infected people would have to not appear. Over 2020 better therapies have been developed, but the infection experience is still terrible.
- Some call for herd immunity as a solution to COVID’s ravages. I’d like to discuss just what a horror that would be in another post. For now let’s imagine the death toll, should America truly attain herd immunity. There are roughly 328.2 million people in this country. Let’s posit 80% of them need to get infected for immunity to work, or about 262.5 million. Then let’s assume a fairly reasonable-to-low case fatality rate of 0.6%. The result: around one million, five hundred thousand dead. Which is an astonishing, terrible figure to contemplate. For the purposes of forecasting, it’s also a problem in that it would take some time to attain. In six months about 6 million Americans have been infected. At that rate sufficient infection will take something like 20 years. Even if infection rates take off, through accidental or deliberate means, it will take some time for herd immunity to be attained.
For the sake of futuring one possible path I’d like to posit that none of those things take place before 2023. No herd immunity arrives any time soon. Hundreds of millions of people are not taking our COVID vaccine. No benign mutation has appeared. Medical professionals have not developed a splendid treatment. If none of those occur, then we have one path forward for COVID-19 to keep ravaging the United States for at least several years.
Bryan Alexander adds to his about how the current pandemic might unfold. This time he elaborates on the possibility that things continue in much the same fashion until 2023.