The Atlantic has an interesting (and somewhat depressing) article pointing out that it is likely that COVID-19 will be with us for a long time, or even indefinitely. That would make it similar to the flu, which comes back pretty much every year, and we are able to deal with it. The title is “The Coronavirus Is Never Going Away“.
They point out that SARS, which is closely related to COVID-19, “was snuffed out through intense isolation, contact tracing, and quarantine” and is no longer found in humans. But unlike SARS, COVID-19 can be spread by people who have no symptoms and don’t know they are infected, which makes it harder to eliminate.
The most likely scenario, experts say, is that the pandemic ends at some point — because enough people have been either infected or vaccinated — but the virus continues to circulate in lower levels around the globe. Cases will wax and wane over time. Outbreaks will pop up here and there. Even when a much-anticipated vaccine arrives, it is likely to only suppress but never completely eradicate the virus. (For context, consider that vaccines exist for more than a dozen human viruses but only one, smallpox, has ever been eradicated from the planet, and that took 15 years of immense global coordination.) We will probably be living with this virus for the rest of our lives.
The good news is that treatments and vaccines should make COVID-19 “much less dangerous and less disruptive”. But that will take time.