The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Chief Scientist Dr. Soumya Swaminathan expressed scepticism over what exactly the coronavirus vaccine does with regards to transmissibility while speaking during a WHO press briefing on Monday.
A reporter asked if someone who was travelling from overseas and had received the vaccine would pose a risk for community transmission if they visited a place where there is limited community spread.
“I think what we are learning now and continue to wait for more results from vaccine trials, is to really understand if these vaccines, apart from preventing symptomatic disease and severe disease and deaths, whether they are also going to reduce infections or prevent people from getting infected with the virus, preventing them from passing it on or transmitting it to other people,” Swaminathan said.
“At the moment I don’t believe we have the evidence on any of the vaccines to be confident that it’s going to prevent people from actually getting the infection and therefore being able to pass it on,” Swaminathan said. “I think until we know we know more; we need to assume that people who have been vaccinated need to take the same precautions until there’s a certain level of herd immunity that has been built in the population.”
The warning poses challenges for countries that have aimed to eliminate community transmission through tough border bans, enforced quarantine, and lockdowns such as Australia and New Zealand.
Some of the countries with the greatest coronavirus outbreaks have begun vaccinating the public, including Britain and the United States.
Dr. Michael Ryan, the executive director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Program expressed a similar sentiment, noting that the main goal of the vaccine as of now is to prevent widespread death.
“I think it is important that we also reflect on the main objective of the vaccine and the first rollout will be to prevent severe illness, prevent deaths, to protect frontline health workers, and to protect the most vulnerable people in our society.”
Ryan noted that when it comes to transmissibility, there is just not enough information to make a conclusive determination.
“We just don’t know enough yet about the length of protection and other things to be absolutely able to predict that. I think we should be able to get good control of the virus.”
“A decision then to move towards elimination or eradication of the virus requires a much higher degree of efficiency and effectiveness in a vaccination program and all of the other control measures,” Ryan said. “The likely scenario is that the virus will become … another endemic virus which will remain somewhat of a threat but a low-level threat because of the global vaccination program. It remains to be seen how well the vaccines are taken up.”
“The existence of a vaccine even at high efficacy is no guarantee at eliminating or eradicating an infectious disease,” he added, reiterating that the focus of the vaccine is to prevent deaths.
We all think that once we are vaccinated, we are not going to have to wear masks anymore, instead, scientists are saying that that for them it’s critical to know if we have to keep wearing masks, because we could still be contagious.
New South Wales has imposed localised restrictions as it races to curb an outbreak first detected in the week before Christmas.
The country’s elimination strategy has hinged upon its tough border bans, which prevent Australians from leaving the country unless they are granted an exemption and imposes caps on the number of citizens who can return, after which they must quarantine for two weeks under guard in a hotel.
Will this be the case after vaccination?