It’s looking like it'll be another bumpy ride this holiday season thanks to COVID-19. In fact, we should expect Christmas for the next five years to have some disruption from the ongoing outbreak, according to an expert.
Tim Spector, a professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, speaking online as part of the Royal Society of Medicine COVID-19 series, explains that the infection will likely continue to circulate in human populations despite high vaccination rates. We can influence how high these rates are depending on the actions we take, but, he says, the current measures in the UK (where he is based) are totally “insufficient.”
"I think we have to realize it's not just this Christmas, it's perhaps Christmases for the next five years we need to be thinking about realistically," remarked Spector, who is the lead scientist on the ZOE COVID study app.
"Now that we’ve got a better picture about COVID-19 than we had a year ago when we thought ‘we just got to get over this winter and it’ll be fine.’ That’s clearly turning out not to be the case."
"We realize that vaccines alone… are not the final solution to this. We need a combination of measures," he says. "We need to extend the vaccination program to three shots. We also need to realize there will be breakthrough infections that are real, we now know that vaccinated people can still transmit the virus, and that is going to be running through our populations to some degree."
"How high we want those rates to be is partly determined by our complacency and the relaxation of some of the rules we had in place. Last year, I thought they were actually over the top — and now, this year, I think they are insufficient," he added.
Spector is talking about the UK here, but a similar situation could be brewing across the Atlantic. Scientists are uncertain how this winter will pan out in the US, but some are bracing for the worst. While almost 60 percent of the US population over the age of 12 are fully vaccinated, as of November 11, experts note that concern for the virus has faded meaning many will take a lax attitude towards prevention measures, especially with large gatherings for Thanksgiving and the holiday season and people making up for the lost time last year. This year also has the highly contagious Delta variant to take into consideration.
"Delta and waning immunity — the combination of these two have set us back," Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington, told the Associated Press this week. "This virus is going to stick with us for a long, long time."