Billings infectious disease doctor and author David Graham's new self-published book "From Killer to Common Cold" looks to other human coronaviruses to see what can be learned about COVID-19.
Graham, adoctor who's been practicing in Billings for 15 years, said he would like to shift the COVID-19 conversation to one about humanity's future years coexisting with the virus. Graham spoke with Q2 on Saturday via video call.
“The idea for the book, it really stems from my disappointment with why aren’t we hearing more about what the future is with COVID-19? There’s a lot of talk about a vaccine and then what? I would really like to take this to the extreme, because I think that we can know by looking at the past that COVID-19 goes from killer to common cold," Graham said.
Of the seven known coronaviruses that can infect humans, Graham said COVID-19 is different from SARS or MERS because COVID-19 is more contagious.
"While they are very effective killers, they’re just not contagious. They don’t spread like COVID-19 does. The other four viruses are common cold viruses. They cause runny noses and the like in day cares all across the country," Graham said.
Graham argued COVID-19 is similar to other human coronaviruses in that immunity is not permanent and can lessen over time. Graham said a COVID-19 vaccine won't a silver bullet to prevent infection. Rather, a vaccine will serve to hopefully make the illness less severe in the patient.
"We know that you can get a common cold coronavirus and have the same darn strain six months or two years later. So, with COVID-19 the hope is some immunity (due to ) a vaccine, but chances are that it’s going to wain and you’re going to get COVID-19 again or you’re going to get the vaccine again," Graham said.
The Centers For Disease control says immunity to COVID-19 may not last long, according to its web site. More research is needed to better understand how long immunity may last in vaccinated people or people who've already had COVID-19.
Graham said COVID-19 doesn't have characteristics that make the virus able to be completely eradicated across the world.
Other viruses like measles or chickenpox can be prevented through vaccine. If enough people become vaccinated or get these diseases, a population can build herd immunity and stop the disease's circulation.
Grahm says the world won't ever reach herd immunity levels with COVID-19 because a person can't build complete immunity to the virus. The vaccine combined with further community spread will lessen COVID-19's impact on the patient, Graham said.
"Once you’ve gotten COVID-19, or preferably a vaccine, then again the second time you get it it will be more mild and the third and fourth time you get it, it will hopefully be like the common cold," Graham said.
Until we reach a point where there is a widely available vaccine and enough of the population has gotten COVID-19, Graham said people should do what they can to protect the most vulnerable people.
“Time will tell, but we can tell a little bit about what time is going to tell us. This is going to be a process. It’s not going to go away any time soon. We need to learn how to live with this. We need to learn how to protect the vulnerable folks in our life so they can get a vaccine before they get this. But we do need to fundamentally make decisions in line with our own personal responsibility and we need to go about our lives," Graham said.
Graham's book can be bought on Amazon, or other e-reading platforms.