“The pandemic is far from over,” says renowned COVID-19 expert

• Dr. Larry Brilliant said that since only a small percentage of the world’s population is vaccinated against COVID-19, other variants will prolong the pandemic.
• And the Delta variant may not be the dominant strain for long.
• COVID-19 may become the “forever virus” like the flu, according to Brilliant.

The end of the pandemic is nowhere in sight — not only in the U.S., but around the world, according to a renowned epidemiologist.

Dr. Larry Brilliant, a former member of the World Health Organization’s brass who helped in the fight against smallpox, said that since only a small percentage of the world population has been vaccinated against COVID-19, other variants will prolong the pandemic as vaccination efforts continue to stall.

“I think we’re closer to the beginning than we are to the end [of the pandemic], and that’s not because the variant that we’re looking at right now is going to last that long,” Brilliant told CNBC in an interview.

Brilliant, now the CEO of pandemic-response group Pandefesne Advisory, said that everyone in more than 200 countries would need to be vaccinated to halt emerging variants. If that doesn’t happen, COVID-19 could soon become a “forever virus” like the flu.

Relatively few people are currently vaccinated against COVID-19: 15.5% are fully vaccinated, while around 30% have received at least one dose. The most sobering stat: more than 100 countries currently have vaccinated fewer than 5% of their populations, meaning that the world has a long way to go before there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

How long will the Delta variant continue to dominate?

The Delta variant, currently the most dominant form of COVID-19 in the US, may not linger long. That’s because the variant’s transmissibility could come to a halt if it runs out of candidates to infect, Brilliant said.

“That may mean that this is a six-month phenomenon in a country, rather than a two-year phenomenon. But I do caution people that this is the Delta variant and we have not run out of Greek letters so there may be more to come,” he added.

New patterns have already been seen in India and the UK. Daily confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the UK have dropped by 50% in the past week; cases have dropped by a factor of 10 in the past few months in India, where the strain first popped up.

Is a ‘super variant’ nearing?

The threat of new variants creates the possibility of a super variant emerging that could be resistant to vaccines. Dr. Anthony Fauci recently alluded that the US could be “in trouble” if a new variant emerges and those other variants could challenge the effectiveness of existing vaccines.

Brilliant said that the chances of a super variant evading vaccines are low, but getting vaccinated remains key in fighting the war against COVID-19.

“It’s such a catastrophic event should it occur, we have to do everything possible to prevent it,” said Brilliant. “And that means get everyone vaccinated — not just in your neighborhood, not just in your family, not just in your country, but all over the world.”