A return to “pre-COVID” life — without social distancing or precautions such as face masks — may not happen until 2022, WHO’s chief scientist said Tuesday.
First, a vaccine needs to be deployed, and then people need to develop immunity for communities across the world to return back to “normal,” Soumya Swaminathan, WHO’s chief science officer, said during a virtual meeting.
The United Nations General Assembly, taking place between Sept. 15-26, hosted the meeting.
“We’re looking at 2022 at least before enough people start getting the vaccine to build immunity,” she told reporters, according to CNN. “So for a long time to come, we have to maintain the same kind of measures that are currently being put in place.”
Even after the vaccine is first deployed, people will need to maintain social distancing, wear masks and practice hand hygiene, she said. About 60% to 70% of the population needs immunity before virus transmission declines significantly, she added.
“We also don’t know how long these vaccines will protect for,” she said. “That’s the other big question mark. How long does immunity last? It’s possible that you will need a booster.”
For now, public health officials are focused on controlling the spread of the coronavirus rather than eliminating it since the transmission has been so broad in communities, she said. At the same time, Swaminathan said she doesn’t see the coronavirus becoming a seasonal virus over time. Instead, she expects “ups and downs” in transmission and new case numbers globally.