A new study predicts that we may need to continue social distancing through 2022 and maybe even longer.
If we find effective treatment and efficacious vaccine, this time period may be shorter.
At the time of writing this article, there are 2.5 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and 185,000 deaths due to COVID-19 across the globe. Several trials are ongoing to find the best treatment options but there is no effective treatment as of yet. Vaccine trials are ongoing at an accelerated pace, especially with the involvement of all the major governments and investments in pharmaceutical companies. Nonetheless, vaccines are not expected to arrive in the market at least until a year later. Even when we develop a vaccine, efficacy may not be impressive. Flu vaccine efficacy is only 40%-60% and 23-serovalent pneumococcal vaccine efficacy is only 3%-16%.
Without effective treatment and vaccines, preventive measures like social distancing, regular handwashing, and wearing a face mask are critical to prevent a rise in COVID-19 cases. A recently published article in the journal Science predicts that we may need to continue these preventive measures through 2022.
The study used the estimates of seasonality, immunity against COVID-19 and cross-immunity against other coronaviruses. The study reported that after the initial pandemic wave, recurrent wintertime outbreaks are highly possible. The authors also recommended to continue to beef up critical care capacity as COVID-19 cases may occur in waves over a long period of time.
With effective vaccines and anti-viral treatment, the long term need for social distancing may be minimized. As vaccine may not enter the market for more than a year and no effective anti-viral treatment is available, we may have to prepare ourselves to maintain social distancing for a long time. Other preventive measures like wearing a mask and washing hands regularly are also pivotal in reducing COVID-19 cases once lockdown is lifted.
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Berild JD et al. A Systematic Review of Studies Published between 2016 and 2019 on the Effectiveness and Efficacy of Pneumococcal Vaccination on Pneumonia and Invasive Pneumococcal Disease in an Elderly Population. Pathogens. 2020 Apr 3;9(4). pii: E259. doi: 10.3390/pathogens9040259.
Kissler et al. Projecting the transmission dynamics of SARS-CoV-2 through the postpandemic period. Science 14 Apr 2020: eabb5793. DOI: 10.1126/science.abb5793