WASHINGTON — The world is waiting for the coronavirus pandemic to just be over already. The finish line appears to be in sight as COVID-19 vaccines roll out. Unfortunately, an ominous new report by researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center contends that mass vaccinations alone won’t control or end the pandemic.
Instead, they say protecting against the spread of both symptomatic and asymptomatic COVID-19 infections is the true key to ending the pandemic. Asymptomatic cases in particular continue to drive the pandemic forward, according to study authors. In other words, social distancing and masks aren’t going to be superfluous any time soon.
“Determining the true transmission capability of asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic cases is inherently complex, but knowledge gaps should not detract from acknowledging their role in the spread of SARS-CoV-2,” researchers write in a university release.
“We can’t rely on vaccination alone to control the pandemic,” adds co-author Angela L. Rasmussen, PhD. “Vaccines are great for protecting people against disease, but we don’t yet know how well they work to protect against transmission.”
A vaccine that protects against a disease should also be effective at preventing infection.
“But just like the vaccines don’t offer a hundred percent protection against getting sick, they also aren’t a hundred percent likely to protect against transmission,” Rasmussen explains.
Containing the virus around the world
There’s also the matter of vaccine availability. While the United States has been doing a great job of vaccinating its citizens as of late, that isn’t the situation in many other areas of the world.
“Asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission poses a unique challenge for public health and infection prevention mitigation efforts,” notes study co-author Saskia V. Popescu, PhD, MA. “Ultimately this is something we will need to continuously keep our eye on as we move into the next phase of the COVID-19 pandemic and a reduction of disease due to vaccinations.”
“Until there is widespread implementation of robust surveillance and epidemiological measures that allow us to put out these smokeless fires, the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be fully extinguished,” the team conclude.
The study is published in Science.