If a coronavirus vaccine isn’t quickly made available, Americans may have to social distance until 2022, according to a new study.
Researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that without a vaccine, social distancing may be necessary for the next few years if we want to beat the virus and keep hospitals from becoming overwhelmed.
“Intermittent distancing may be required into 2022 unless critical care capacity is increased substantially or a treatment or vaccine becomes available,” the researchers wrote. “Even in the event of apparent elimination, SARS-CoV-2 surveillance should be maintained since a resurgence in contagion could be possible as late as 2024.”
The Harvard team used U.S. data to create different scenarios on how the coronavirus may spread through 2025; their findings were published in the journal “Science” Tuesday.
The researchers said the best way to fight the virus is through intermittent social distancing until a vaccine is developed, which could be months or years away.
They also warned that if social distancing is too strict it could prevent herd immunity: in one scenario, “social distancing was so effective that virtually no population immunity was built.”
The Harvard team acknowledged that long-term restrictions would have “profoundly negative economic, social, and educational consequences.”
They concluded: “We do not take a position on the advisability of these scenarios given the economic burden that sustained distancing may impose, but we note the potentially catastrophic burden on the healthcare system that is predicted if distancing is poorly effective and-or not sustained for long enough.”