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(CNN) – Vaccination alone may not be enough to end the Covid-19 pandemic, researchers reported Tuesday.
Even with most of the population vaccinated, lifting precautions linked to the pandemic could lead to an increase in the spread of the virus, researchers reported in the medical journal JAMA Network Open.
Mehul Patel, assistant professor of Emergency Medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and his colleagues used a mathematical model to simulate the spread of the coronavirus among the roughly 10 million people in North Carolina.
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The researchers found that COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths would continue to increase if precautions such as quarantine, school closings, physical distancing and the use of masks are lifted while vaccination is carried out.
Reduction with precautions vs. without precautions
“Our study suggests that, for a population of 10.5 million, approximately 1.8 million infections and 8,000 deaths could be prevented over 11 months with more effective covid-19 vaccines, increased vaccination coverage and maintenance of non-pharmaceutical interventions such as distancing and the use of masks, ”they wrote.
The model shows that if 25% of adults were vaccinated with 50% efficacy, there would be an average of 2.2 million new infections if precautions were lifted and few fewer than 800,000 if they were maintained.
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If 90% effective vaccines were applied to 75% of adults, the model shows an average of 527,409 new infections when precautions are lifted and 450,575 when they are maintained.
The researchers calculated that it would be better to give less effective vaccines to a larger number of people. That would reduce the risk of spreading the virus more than giving more effective vaccines to fewer people.
“Increasing coverage by a substantial amount, regardless of how effective the vaccine is, is really what seems to be driving control,” Patel told CNN. “If the vaccine was only distributed to a minority of the population, we might even see increases of the magnitude of what we were seeing before the vaccines were administered.”
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In line with other research, the model shows a higher risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19 among black people and those living in rural communities. The team said that combining vaccination with pandemic precautions would lead to lower infections, hospitalizations and deaths in all population groups.
How do these findings link to the CDC recommendations?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said last month that, in most cases, it is safe for vaccinated people to go without a mask outdoors and indoors. The guide was criticized for and against, and some public health experts argued that the United States is not far enough along in vaccination to relax precautions for the pandemic.
The CDC’s recommendations do not discount the importance of the precautions the study addresses, noted Dr. Alexander Doroshenko, an assistant professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of Alberta in Canada, in a linked comment. Instead, they “emphasize the need for a balanced approach that allows vaccinated people to resume low-risk activities.”
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In the near future, maintaining precautions could work in synergy with vaccination to end the pandemic, Doroshenko said.
Patel’s team did not attempt to pinpoint exactly when it would be safe to lift the precautions in the United States. However, Patel said that as vaccination coverage approached 75% in the simulations, they saw infection levels drop.
Just over half of the adult population in the United States and about 40% of the total population is fully vaccinated, according to the most recent data from the CDC.
State policies for lifting restrictions
As vaccination progresses, many states are lifting the precautions set by the pandemic. California plans to remove all capacity limits and physical distancing requirements when the state fully reopens on June 15. Other states, meanwhile, tie an end to restrictions on vaccination coverage.
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Among them is Oregon, which announced plans to end major restrictions when 70% of eligible residents have received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.
Patel and colleagues say their findings suggest that a coordinated effort to maximize vaccination coverage and take precautions will be needed “to reduce the burden of COVID-19 to a level that can allow the resumption of many economic, educational and social activities. ».