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A sobering conclusion from the study:

However, as vaccination needs to be ahead of the spread of such strains in similar ways to influenza, it is necessary to reduce the probability of [a variant emerging] by a targeted effort to reduce the virus transmission rate towards the end of the vaccination period before the current vaccines become ineffective.

i.e. There may be a cycle of “ok everyone wear masks again now” while we get another round of boosters, before the previous ones become less effective. We could do this with ‘flu strains as well, but we accept that a few hundred people will die of ‘flu strains every year. I don’t think we could accept a few tens of thousands dying of covid strains every year.

The U.K. may want to take note of this part:

Conversely, lack of non-pharmaceutical interventions at that time can increase the probability of establishment of vaccine-resistant strains. For example, plans to vaccinate individuals with a high risk of a fatal disease outcome followed by a drive to reach herd immunity while in uncontrolled transmission among the rest of the population is likely to greatly increase the probability that a resistant strain is established, annulling the initial vaccination effort. Another potential risk factor may be the reversion of vaccinated individuals to pre-pandemic behaviours that can drive the initial spread of the resistant strain.

This implies that what the U.K. is doing now (part-vaccination followed by complete reversion to pre-pandemic behaviours) is going to gift our world with more strains, any of which may be more infectious and/or virulent.

They recommend:

One simple specific recommendation is to keep transmission low even when a large fraction of the population has been vaccinated by implementing acute non-pharmaceutical interventions (i.e. strict adherence to social distancing) for a reasonable period of time, to allow emergent lineages of resistant strains to go extinct through stochastic genetic drift.

Call me cynical, but I don’t think we’re going to do that.



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