COVID-19 Fight Will Last At Least Three To Four More Years, Predicts Scientist Who Helped Eradicate Smallpox

The battle against the COVID-19 pandemic will be a part of the daily lives of people around the world for the next three or four years, and the toll wrought by the virus will be felt for decades, predicts a scientist who helped eradicate smallpox five decades ago.

As USA Today reported, however, the same scientist says it's "not all doom and gloom."

Dr. Larry Brilliant is an epidemiologist who worked with the World Health Organization to eradicate smallpox back in the 1970s. He predicted that the fight against the coronavirus will be not unlike similar efforts, carried out decades ago, to get the upper hand on other fatal infectious diseases.

"It will be like the smallpox eradication program. The polio eradication program. Having yellow fever in some countries and not in others," he said, referring to localized outbreaks of diseases here and there. He predicted a similar pattern with COVID-19: there will be repeated outbreaks, with hot spots jumping from country to country.

"We will still be chasing the virus four years from now," he said.

For the immediate term, Brilliant's predictions are grim. Until a vaccine is produced -- something that isn't likely to happen before the end of the year -- he predicts more deaths in the U.S. Complicating matters will be traditional fall activities that, in a normal year, happen without a second thought: kids will go back to school, people will congregate together for Labor Day Weekend festivities, voters will wait in long lines and crowd into polling stations.

voters cast their ballots in california
Getty Images | Mario Tama

All of those will contribute to a sharp increase in deaths in the U.S., he predicted.

"We're in for a bad and rocky ride."

However, it's not all doom and gloom, he said. Multiple potential vaccines are currently in the works, with one or more successful ones likely to emerge within months. Similarly, effective treatments, such as convalescent plasma and monoclonal antibodies, are also being looked at.

Still, there will be after-effects of the pandemic for years to come. Travelers, for example, may have to show a card at airports to show they've been immunized. Schools and sports stadiums will be equipped with instant testing stations.

For now, Brilliant thinks the best approach would be a uniform, nationwide policy across all 50 states that includes mask mandates and limiting the size of crowds in indoor spaces. Doing so, he says, would prevent a second nationwide shutdown of the economy, something he suggested would be "political and emotional and economic hell."