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Texas A&M Virologist Says COVID-19 Doesn't Have To Be Endemic

Traci Soliz-Cote prepares a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine during a pop-up vaccine clinic at Cristo Rey Church in East Austin.
Michael Minasi/KUT
Traci Soliz-Cote prepares a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine during a pop-up vaccine clinic at Cristo Rey Church in East Austin.

More than 57,000 Texans have died from COVID-19 – almost 5,000 of those deaths occurred over the past month. Those numbers are much higher than health officials had hoped to see this far into the pandemic. The delta variant and low vaccination rates have led many to wonder if we're moving from a pandemic to something that's endemic.

Dr. Ben Neuman is chief virologist at Texas A&M's Global Health Research Complex. He says COVID-19 becoming endemic would mean the disease had become "a part of life for the indefinite future."

Neuman says allowing the disease to become endemic would be a "terrible mistake."

The common cold and the annual outbreaks of flu are already endemic to modern life.

"We live with these because… The cost benefit ratio isn't right to knock them out, and also because we don't have vaccines that are really capable of that level of effectiveness," Neuman said.

But, he says, the vaccines available for COVID-19 are effective enough to stop the virus.

Allowing COVID to become endemic amounts to "giving up" Neuman says.

"Giving up is the thing that happens naturally after you lose," Neuman said. "I'm not ready to lose yet."

Neuman says it's a mistake to expect COVID-19 to "mellow" or become less dangerous. He says it hasn't happened with other viruses, like HIV and ebola. Conquering ebola required quarantines and a vaccine.

COVID-19 cell cultures indicate that the virus, especially the delta variant, remains strong and easily spread.

"I just don't think that we can count on the virus to change what it's doing to suit us," Neuman said.

Additional COVID-19 variants are the result of the virus looking for new ways to spread, Neuman says.

"The good news is that the vaccine works pretty well against all the mutations that have popped up so far," he said.

Using the tools we already have, Neuman says, COVID can be defeated. That's likely to mean vaccinating everyone against the virus.

Rhonda joined KUT in late 2013 as producer for the station's new daily news program, Texas Standard. Rhonda will forever be known as the answer to the trivia question, “Who was the first full-time hire for The Texas Standard?” She’s an Iowa native who got her start in public radio at WFSU in Tallahassee, while getting her Master's Degree in Library Science at Florida State University. Prior to joining KUT and The Texas Standard, Rhonda was a producer for Wisconsin Public Radio.