Policy makers and the public are relying overwhelmingly on the availability of effective vaccines to end the COVID-19 pandemic and get back to normality with COVID-19 prevention measures such as masks, social distancing, hand-hygiene. Little attention has been paid to the potential problems with an over-reliance of vaccines. Hence, there is a need to identify plausible endgame scenarios, leading to the development of related mitigation pathways.
The ISC’s COVID Expert Group discussed this issue on 16 December 2020, making the following points:
Vaccines on their own do not necessarily provide a magic bullet to end what some media outlets now call a “world war on COVID-19”. They do not on their own necessarily provide a shortcut to ending the pandemic and a return to ‘business as usual’.
Possible COVID-19 endgame scenarios lie between two extremes
- A best case, “one world” scenario, with standard vaccines being effective against all variants of the virus and viral control pursued, country by country, assisting each other to achieve global control; (Note: SARS-CoV-2 cannot be eliminated from the world in the foreseeable future because it infects animals (like cats and dogs) as well as humans);
- A worst case, “divided world” scenario, where multiple viral mutants emerge repeatedly with the ability to escape vaccine immunity, which only rich countries can deal with by repeatedly rapidly manufacturing adapted vaccines for multiple rounds of population reimmunization in pursuit of national control while the rest of the world struggles with repeated waves and ineffective vaccines.
Intermediate scenarios include
- Continuous virus mutation and vaccine adaptation, with repeated waves;
- Policy makers decide to pursue natural infection herd immunity.
- To assist and inform policy and public understanding of plausible endgame scenarios;
- To initiate work on the science-based development of mitigation pathways.
Anticipated results (key performance indicators)
- International scientific agreement on the most plausible endgame scenarios and on the preferred scenario to be pursued at global level;
- Funding for a global science-policy effort to develop, at national/regional levels, related mitigation pathways, with the effort supported by WHO/UNDRR;
- Media interest/uptake.
Areas of Work
- Convene relevant scientific expertise: implement an international virtual workshop aimed at integrated scenario development and a written report;
- Broader outreach and engagement: based on the report, hold a series of open/public consultations (per region/time zone);
- Articulate a position: Based on the report and outcomes of the consultation, publish an international declaration on preferred pathways and a call for global collaboration;
- Funding proposal for a pathways development project.
February to December 2021
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