People around the globe are waiting to get vaccinated, with hopes that mass vaccination programs will finally end the COVID-19 epidemic.
Although efforts to stop the spread of the virus by spreading immunity seem to be working so far, new research suggests that this is not the best time to relax.
Researchers from the Institute of Science and Technology Austria led a team of scientists that calculated the likelihood of a vaccine-resistant strain arising under various scenarios using a modified model of SARS/CoV-2 transmission.
Each scenario had as its central theme the rate of vaccine intake in a population of 10,000,000 over three years and how non-pharmaceutical interventions like mask wearing or social distancing can make a difference.
It is not surprising that a rapid rollout would ensure everyone receives all the approved immunizations within the shortest possible time. This would make it difficult for the deadly coronavirus to develop antibodies-resistant genes randomly.
On the other side, mutating viruses can spread unchecked through susceptible populations. This gives the pathogen many opportunities to develop new skills that could help it jump between hosts more efficiently.
It is possible to imagine the perfidious pathogen that would invent ways to bypass our immune system would be found in a population that has not been vaccinated.
The researchers conclude that "by contrast, a counterintuitive finding of our analysis is the fact that the highest risk for resistant strain establishment occurs in those who have been vaccinated and transmission has not been controlled."
In situations where an emerging strain is allowed to spread, it occurs when approximately 60% of the 10 million people who live in that area have been fully immunized.
It might seem like a great time to let go of the mask and embrace your loved ones as you celebrate your new freedom. Based on this model's predictions, it is impossible to relax at a better time.
"One specific recommendation is to maintain low transmission even when large numbers of people have been vaccinated. This can be done by using acute non-pharmaceutical interventions, i.e. Researchers recommend strict compliance with social distancing (i.e., social isolation) for a reasonable time to allow emerging resistant strains to disappear.
Each time a virus particle reproduces itself, there is a chance that its gene library will change into a new configuration. One of these configurations could outwit an immune system that has already been given a vaccine and leave us all vulnerable.
This lottery win doesn't have to be difficult. It will need to encounter every trick and obstacle possible before it can claim the huge prize.
Herd immunity is an evolving goal that relies on many factors other than just how many people have enough anti-infective antibodies to protect them from serious infections.
Vaccines are a key factor in allowing us to live a more intimate and less restricted life. It is crucial to immunize as many people as possible as soon as possible. However, the strategy doesn't allow us to take our foot off of the accelerator as we reach the finish line.
Now is the best time to do more, so that the hardships we have endured don't become futile sacrifices.
The research was published by Nature.