How long until the COVID-19 pandemic is over?

President Joe Biden recently announced that the U.S. will have enough vaccines to ensure every one of its 328 million citizens can be inoculated against COVID-19 by the end of May.

It’s a remarkable achievement given that the virus was only sequenced at the beginning of 2020, the initial step in what is typically a years-long research, development, validation, manufacturing, and distribution process. Before now, the fastest any vaccine has ever gone through that process: 4 years.

Canada is unfortunately a little behind its American neighbours.

As of March 1, about 2.4 million doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines have been distributed across the country, enough to vaccinate about 1.2 million Canadians. Health Canada recently approved a new vaccine from AstraZeneca and is in the process of reviewing another vaccine candidate from Johnson and Johnson which, unlike the others, only requires one dose. Millions of more doses will arrive in the coming months.

Which raises the question: When is this all going to be over?

Since the beginning of the pandemic, experts have said that the only way the pandemic ends is through “herd immunity.” That occurs when a sufficient number of people have become immune to Sars-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) by either surviving the disease, or by being vaccinated. In either case, the body produces antibodies that protect against the virus. Theoretically, once a certain number of people obtain those antibodies, the spread of the virus slows and, with luck, disappears.

But experts are uncertain where exactly that threshold is, and there are several factors that could alter it.

For example, every time the virus passes from one person to another, it has an opportunity to mutate. In almost every case, these mutations don’t change the virus in any meaningful way, but every so often, they make it either more contagious or more deadly. When that happens, these mutated versions become “variants of concern.” A higher prevalence of more contagious variants in the population raises the herd immunity threshold.

It also depends how effective existing vaccines are against these variants. Right now, it appears that existing vaccines are either somewhat and equally effective against the most common variants of concern. That’s been a lucky break.

Each Canadian province’s vaccine rollout plan began with the highest risk populations and their caregivers. First, long-term care home residents and the people who work there. That’s where the most devastating outbreaks and the vast majority of deaths have occurred in Canada.

At the beginning of March, Ontario entered the next stage of its rollout, providing vaccines to for people over the age of 80 in the community. As supply increases over the Spring and Summer, the eligible age bracket will lower in five-year increments—to people 75 and over, 70 and over, etc.—until everyone who wants a vaccine will be able to get one. Other at-risk groups, including homeless and marginalized populations, and immunocompromised patients, will also be prioritized during this process (the details of Ontario’s phased approach are available online).

Under current projections, the Canadian government estimates that anyone, regardless of age, should be able to get a COVID-19 vaccine by August.

Still, the pandemic doesn’t end the moment that happens. It will take some time after that, and there are other complicating factors besides variants (such as vaccine hesitancy) that could affect when we reach herd immunity.

It’s also important to remember that many countries are much further behind Canada in their efforts to obtain vaccines. Some aren’t expected to have them widely available until 2023, which could impact countries whose populations are fully vaccinated.

In other words, the virus is likely to stay out there in the world, with outbreaks flaring up periodically in different locations (but not necessarily to the extent that it threatens to overwhelm our healthcare system, the way it has over the last year). Doctors expect this could become a seasonal virus, like the flu.

“Normal” life will slowly return for many of us and the pandemic will wind down in the coming months, but there are certain things that COVID-19 has changed for the foreseeable future.

If you’re unsure about whether you should take the vaccine, this excellent fact sheet from the Ontario government should answer most of your questions. It outlines the safety protocols, potential side effects, and ingredients in each of the two most common vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna’s). Though all of these vaccines have been developed quickly, they all went through the same rigorous clinical validation process and regulatory review by Health Canada to ensure they are safe and effective.

It’s important that we all continue to do our part and follow the advice of public health officials—even if you have been vaccinated. That includes hand hygiene. Ethisan is a child-safe, plant-based hand sanitizer made from the highest quality Canadian wheat ethanol. Visit us here to learn more about our products.