Top Italian Scientist Says COVID Will Be 'Like a Cold' by 2024

A top Italian scientist has said COVID could become "like a cold" within a few years.

Giuseppe Remuzzi, from the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research in Milan, told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that a coronavirus vaccine would not make the disease disappear entirely.

Asked if a vaccine would extinguish the virus, Remuzzi said: "No—and it's best to say it clearly. All vaccines in the pipeline, starting with Pfizer's, will not suppress the coronavirus. To put it mildly, they will be more similar to flu shots than polio vaccines. They will protect us from the disease, but they will not make it disappear."

This week, U.S. pharmaceutical company Pfizer announced early data from a large Phase III trial, suggesting that a COVID-19 vaccine it is developing with German company BioNTech, is "more than 90 percent effective" in preventing the disease.

The data is yet to be published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal and will not be made public until the trial is completed.

Remuzzi expects that one or more vaccines will be developed and administered to people around the world, meaning a large section of the global population would be immunized within a few years, but "only on the condition that current measures are maintained," including the wearing of masks, social distancing and frequent hand washing.

"At the moment, no vaccine will alone be able to extinguish the pandemic," he said.

The arrival of vaccines and other public health measures will cause COVID-19 to become "like a cold," Remuzzi said, citing a paper that said SARS-CoV-2 could enter into regular circulation among the human population by 2024, in a similar manner to seasonal flu.

The scientist noted, however, that there were "too many variables" and the future trajectory of the pandemic was "impossible to predict."

The scientists said it was unclear whether any of the vaccines being developed would be 100 percent effective, and it was likely that none would be produced in sufficient quantities to immunize the entire global population,

"Having more than one [vaccine] will help us to get closer to the goal of covering the entire planet, and in the meantime it will allow scientists to perfect them in the course of work," said Remuzzi.

The arrival of mass vaccination for COVID-19 would help to avoid "as many deaths as possible" and would prevent the virus from being transmitted from person to person. But the scientist said mask wearing and other measures remained important.

"Today, our vaccine is the mask. When a real vaccine arrives, we will be even stronger. Precisely for this reason, now more than ever it is important not to abandon precautions. If you prevent the transmission of the virus, as the vaccine will do, you reduce the exposure of the entire population to the virus," he said.

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A medical worker holds a swab as he performs a test for the novel coronavirus on a man at Villa Mafalfa clinic in Rome on November 6, 2020 ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP via Getty Images