COVID-19 is currently classified as a pandemic, which is defined by the World Health Organization as the worldwide spread of a new disease. You're probably familiar with this term by now — it's been used everywhere since March. But its status might change again. If eventually, the virus could become what's known as endemic.
"This virus just may become another endemic virus in our communities and this virus may never go away. HIV hasn't gone away," said Dr. Michael Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization's health emergencies program, during a media briefing. "I'm not comparing the two diseases, but I think it is important that we're realistic. I don't think anyone can predict when or if this disease will disappear," Dr. Ryan said, according to CNN.
When coronavirus first emerged as a major outbreak, it was labelled an "epidemic." The Public Health Agency of Canada defines that term as an "outbreak of infection that spreads rapidly and affects many individuals in a given area or population at the same time." A short while later, COVID-19 officially became a pandemic. That's more serious, because it indicates that the illness has spread over several countries or continents, affecting a large number of people.
An endemic is "the constant presence and/or usual prevalence of a disease or infectious agent in a population within a geographic area," reports the Centers for Disease Control in the United States. So if coronavirus stuck around in a certain area, it could be considered endemic there. Other endemics include HIV, chicken pox, and in some areas of Africa, malaria. They're always present in a certain population or region, but not necessarily at high levels — in some cases, endemic diseases are rare.
There is a chance we can get rid of coronavirus before it becomes an endemic disease, though. "We may have a shot at eliminating this virus but that vaccine will have to be available, it will have to be highly effective, it will have to be made available to everyone, and we'll have to use it," Dr. Ryan said in the press briefing. "This disease may settle into a long-term problem or it may not."
While scientists and doctors are in the process of testing and creating a vaccine for COVID-19, we may still be up to 18 months away from having an approved, effective shot that's ready for mass-market production.