The Malta Independent 17 May 2022, Tuesday

TMID Editorial: Drawing the line between pandemic and endemic

Monday, 24 January 2022, 10:05 Last update: about 5 months ago

Covid-19 has of course been the topic of the past two years, and a source of never-ending debate as the world navigates its way through different stages of the pandemic.

But the next debate which is starting to shape up is whether Covid-19 should continue to be called a pandemic, or whether it should be classed as endemic.

Before getting into it – what do these two words mean in the medical context?

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A pandemic is something declared by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and is when a disease’s growth is exponential – meaning that the growth rate skyrockets and it begins to cover a wide area, affecting many countries and populations, much like how rapidly Covid-19 spread in the early months of 2020.

An endemic meanwhile is when the outbreak of a disease is consistently present but becomes more predictable, and therefore easier to control.  An example of such a disease is influenza where it is widely known that colder weather brings more likelihood for influenza to spread, and where there is a vaccine to combat it.

While many governments have started going in this direction, with reductions to restrictions and to isolation periods, it was Spain who this week really kick-started the debate by saying that it is timely and necessary for governments to start tackling Covid-19 as any other endemic respiratory virus like seasonal flu.

It’s a discussion which Prime Minister Robert Abela sought to insert himself into as well on Sunday, saying that the time was ripe for the government to start considering drawing that line between considering Covid-19 as a pandemic or as endemic.

Indeed, in the coming days, the government is set to announce a reopening plan which kicks in from the first week of February – a plan which is backed by the fact that some 75% of the country’s adult population has now received a third dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.

Would classifying Covid-19 as endemic mean that the problem is over?  No, quite far from it in fact. Many serious diseases as such tuberculosis and HIV are considered endemic in some parts of the world, and they continue to kill thousands of people.

It should also be pointed out that the WHO responded to Spain’s suggestions by saying that the pandemic is nowhere near over, and that new variants are still likely to emerge.

Still, finding a balance is not going to be easy.  The pandemic on a global scale still remains, particularly as low income countries struggle to vaccinate their population.

But at the same time, in countries where vaccination rates are high, patience is starting to wear thin – with more and more people questioning why they are getting vaccinated to still be subjected to restrictions regardless.

What’s certain however is that the end is in sight. All that’s left now, is figuring out the best way to get there.

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