The year 2020 brought the world to a halt. Economies shot down, travel bans were placed across international borders, and sporting and social events were in most countries, considered illegal. It struck the very bonds of our existence. Thanks to advancements in medicine and technology, vaccines have been made and the world is slowly recovering from the pandemic.
With vaccination still ongoing, there is a shared concern that COVID-19 infection could be like the seasonal flu. These concerns arose due to the shared features of the virus and the flu. Both are respiratory viruses and several independent studies have isolated highly mutating regions in the COVID-19 genetic material. This is very similar to the mutations observed in the Influenza virus, the causative agent of the seasonal flu. These views have also been strengthened by reports of people who received a vaccination or who recently recovered from an active infection coming down with the virus.
Similarities between seasonal flu and COVID-19 infection
As noted above, both viruses affect the respiratory system and can be spread via respiratory droplets and aerosol and as with seasonal flu, COVID-19 causes severe illness in older persons, pregnant women, and those with an underlying medical condition. Other shared similarities lie in their complications and treatment regimen. Sharing so many similarities to the flu, it becomes pertinent to ask if people should prepare for the long haul with this virus.
Will COVID be seasonal like the seasonal flu?
According to Dr. Aaron Glatt, a spokesperson for the Infectious Disease Society of America, the notion of a seasonal COVID is a “reasonable conjecture”. He however went ahead to state that there is no evidence available for or against it.
It is well documented that most respiratory viruses follow a seasonal pattern. Their incidence peak and wane as the months pass by but according to Dr. Bruce Y. Lee, a professor at CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy in New York City, “there is no way to predict whether COVID-19 would become seasonal. The virus has no problem “finding” people who are susceptible to it and this could be overriding any seasonal factors that might viral transmission”. She further said that before any seasonal variations can be noticed, the population should have reached significant herd immunity.
Perhaps, the most interesting thing about COVID-19 is the emergence of new viral strains. These new strains to a large strengthen the possibility of the virus having seasonal variations. Fred Adler from the University of Utah and a team of researchers, using a mathematical model suggest that over the next few years, the severity of COVID-19 may decrease as populations develop immunity. According to their publication in the journal Viruses, the COVID-19 severity may get so mild it may have to be renamed to “Just Another Seasonal Coronavirus or JASC for short”.
What does this mean for big pharma?
While a large population of people will frown at the thought of COVID-19 being seasonal, big pharmaceutical companies will be smiling at the bank. This is because a seasonal COVID-19 will necessitate a seasonal shot of the COVID-19 vaccine as seen in seasonal flu. With the worldwide distribution of this virus, these pharmaceutical companies will be sitting on a large chunk of profit as there will be a large market for their vaccines. The cherry on the top of this large market is the seasonality which guarantees sales at different times of the year. If COVID-19 becomes seasonal, all will frown while big pharma smiles.
There is a good chance that COVID-19 could get seasonal judging by its similarities with the seasonal flu. If this becomes the case, it would become the golden goose of big pharma.