Can a COVID-19 vaccination program guarantee the return to a pre-pandemic lifestyle?


COVID-19 vaccination has been initiated in several countries to control SARS-CoV-2 transmission. Whether and when non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) can be lifted as vaccination builds up remains key questions. To address them, we built a data-driven SARS-CoV-2 transmission model for China. We estimated that, to prevent local outbreaks to escalate to major widespread epidemics, stringent NPIs need to remain in place at least one year after the start of vaccination. Should NPIs be capable to keep the reproduction number (Rt) around 1.3, vaccination could reduce up to 99% of COVID-19 burden and bring Rt below the epidemic threshold in 9 months. Maintaining strict NPIs throughout 2021 is of paramount importance to reduce COVID-19 burden while vaccines are distributed, especially in large populations with little natural immunity.

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