Most Americans believe Covid-19 is here to stay, according to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll , as governments around the world prepare plans to live with the virus even as infections around the world remain high, fueled by the omicron variant.
The vast majority of Americans—83%—said they will consider the pandemic over when Covid-19 is largely a mild illness like seasonal flu, according to the poll , conducted January 13-18 among 1,161 U.S. adults.
In contrast, just 15% said they will consider the pandemic over when the disease has been largely eliminated, like polio.
Nearly three quarters of people believe it is essential (59%) or important (14%) to get personally vaccinated for life to get back to normal, the poll found, though just over a third of parents (37%) felt vaccines were essential for their children.
A significant portion think vaccines are not too important (8% for themselves and 9% for their children) or not important at all (17% for themselves and 27% for their children) for getting lives back to normal.
Fewer than half (47%) thought booster shots for adults are essential in getting life back to normal, the poll found, though studies show two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine offer little protection against the omicron variant.
The end of the pandemic does not mean an end to Covid-19 itself and scientists widely expect the virus is here to stay. High rates of omicron infections—which reached record levels in many countries around the world—combined with relatively low levels of hospitalization and deaths than previous variants, has reinvigorated discussion on learning to live with the virus rather than eliminating it. Political debate has centered on treating Covid-19 as an endemic—a more stable and more predictable illness—disease like seasonal flu. Experts and public health bodies, including the World Health Organization , warn such an approach is premature and stress endemic doesn’t mean the virus is not dangerous. Seasonal flu , malaria and HIV are all considered endemic and kill upwards of 600,000 people a year and can infect hundreds of millions more in the case of flu and malaria. Tuberculosis is also endemic and killed 1.5 million people in 2020, making it the second biggest infectious killer after Covid-19.
What To Watch For
A shift in Covid-19 policy. Despite soaring numbers of omicron cases, levels of hospitalization and deaths from the virus have been lower than with previous variants. A string of countries—including Spain, the U.K. and France—are considering policy shifts to remove restrictions and acknowledge the virus as a fact of daily life, including shortening isolation periods and removing testing requirements.
Infographic: Endemic vs pandemic diseases (Al Jazeera)