This is the end of the coronavirus pandemic. And this is how it could happen in the United States: By November 2021, most Americans have received two doses of a vaccine that, while not gloriously effective, fights the disease in more cases than not. Meanwhile, Americans continue to wear masks and avoid large gatherings, and the Covid-19 numbers drop steadily after a series of surges earlier in the year. Eventually, as more and more Americans develop immunity through exposure and vaccination, and as treatments become more effective, Covid-19 recedes into the swarm of ordinary illnesses Americans get every winter.
“It will take two things to bring this virus under control: hygienic measures and a vaccine. And you can’t have one without the other,” says Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center and an attending physician in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
The future laid out above is the likeliest scenario for how the pandemic could end, based on interviews with 11 top-level experts who think about the future of those microscopic SARS-CoV-2 particles every day.
They agree there’s a lot of fog left in the Covid-19 crystal ball, but most accept several likelihoods: At least one effective vaccine—hopefully several—will be approved in the U.S. by early next year. Producing and distributing a vaccine will take months, with the average American not receiving their dose (or doses) until at least mid- or late 2021. And while widespread inoculation will play a large role in bringing life back to normal, getting the shot will not be your cue to take off your mask and run free into a crowded bar. The end of the pandemic will be an evolution, not a revolution, the vaccine just another powerful tool in that process.