Vaccines are only the first step in stopping new coronavirus strains, a new study warns, adding that face masks and social distancing are also essential.
Researchers whose work was published Friday in Nature Scientific Reports have said they agree with updated guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which advises Americans to wear masks indoors and in crowded spaces — even if they are vaccinated against COVID-19.
Their study also urges non-vaccinated people to get the jab as quickly as possible. “A fast rate of vaccination decreases the probability of emergence of a resistant strain,” they wrote in their report, which used mathematical modeling and epidemiological understanding to make their ominous prediction.
“Counterintuitively, when a relaxation of non-pharmaceutical interventions” — such as face masks and social distancing — “happened at a time when most individuals of the population have already been vaccinated, the probability of emergence of a resistant strain was greatly increased,” they continued.
The findings support a new assessment by the CDC — via a leaked internal document — that the coronavirus Delta variant is just as virulent as chickenpox, even among some vaccinated individuals.
According to those reporting on the CDC’s leaked memo, scientists agree that vaccines “prevent more than 90 per cent of severe disease,” the document said, “but may be less effective at preventing infection or transmission.”
Simon Rella, a researcher at the Institute of Science and Technology Austria who worked on the study, told reporters that a vaccine-resistant strain has an “advantage over the original strain” when vaccinated people let their guard down.
“This means the vaccine resistant strain spreads through the population faster at a time when most people are vaccinated,” he added.
The Institute’s Fyodor Kondrashov also explained how vaccine-resistant strains become more virulent than their predecessor.
“Generally, the more people are infected, the more the chances for vaccine resistance to emerge. So the more Delta is infectious, the more reason for concern,” he said
The study suggests that lawmakers should not lift all pandemic restrictions just yet.
“We have two tools in our toolbox to do this,” Kondrashov continued, referring to vaccines and face masks. “From an evolutionary perspective, what is necessary to reduce [the spread] is to vaccinate as many people as possible as fast as possible and across the globe.