State health officials believe there could be yearly vaccines, seasonal outbreaks of COVID-19

The latest forecast from researchers at UT Southwestern show the recent delta wave of the coronavirus will continue to wane over the next few weeks.

But there's an increased belief that COVID-19 will likely be a part of our lives for the rest of our lives.

That may mean yearly vaccinations and seasonal outbreaks.

Dallas and Tarrant counties have seen a significant decline in COVID spread. 

Aside from a possible surge this winter, the state’s top epidemiologist said COVID-19 could be a seasonal thing we have to deal with, like the flu.

Some health officials said the sharp decline in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations signals we are on the tail end of the delta variant surge. 

UT Southwestern researchers said COVID patients in Tarrant County hospitals have dropped nearly 40% in the last two weeks.

In Dallas County, patient levels are down 30%. 

"We know there's still people out there that are still susceptible and can still get infected, either on this current surge or by a later one. Mutations happen to this virus, and if a new variant arises, it could cause another wave of disease," Texas Chief State Epidemiologist Dr. Jennifer Shuford said.

While the U.S. is seeing a decline, some health officials are talking about the pandemic becoming endemic, similar to a seasonal flu.

"COVID-19 is looking more like it might become just part of our circulating viruses and then become seasonal," Shuford said. "But we still need to make sure that enough of our population is immune so that we don't keep having these huge pandemic waves and we can get to a point where it just becomes part of our normal circulating respiratory viruses and not something that causes huge strains to our health care system every time it hits."

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There are 63% of eligible Texans who are fully vaccinated. 

Cases have continued to drop despite packed football games, the State Fair of Texas, concerts, and other events.

Shuford said it’s because more people are protected against the virus and not getting severely ill from it because they're vaccinated.

Or they developed natural immunity after getting infected.

But she said both of those can fade, making it difficult to give a set herd immunity goal. 

"Part of the problem is that the goalposts keep moving. Every time we get a new variant, especially one that's more transmissible, that changes our herd immunity threshold and so it keeps getting higher," she explained.

UT Southwestern researchers said, in several weeks, North Texas hospital levels will be lower than the surge last summer. 

But that doesn’t mean there won’t be another winter spike. 

"Everybody, young to old, wants to get together in the same house, and that causes a lot of mixing and a lot of infections, not just COVID-19, but influenza and everything else as well," Shuford said.