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Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to U.S. President Joe Biden. Source: The Hill.
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  • For several months, scientists around the world have been optimistic that an increasing rollout of vaccines could largely contain the coronavirus
  • But data from a recent vaccine trial in South Africa showed that variants could lessen the effect of vaccines and evade natural immunity
  • Scientists now believe that COVID-19 will remain with us as an endemic virus and likely cause a significant burden of illness and death for years to come
  • That said, new vaccines still appear to prevent hospitalisations and death, even when new variants are the cause of infection
  • Several vaccine developers are also working on booster shots, as well as new inoculations that could retain a high level of efficacy against the variants

For several months, scientists around the world have been optimistic that an increasing rollout of vaccines could largely contain the coronavirus.

They’d hoped that the doses could assist in achieving herd immunity or help to significantly reduce the likelihood of transmission, thanks to a combination of inoculation and previous infection.

Over the last month, however, data from a vaccine trial in South Africa showed not only that a rapidly-spreading COVID-19 variant could lessen the effect of vaccines, but also that it could evade natural immunity in those who had previously been infected.

“I couldn’t sleep,” said Chris Murray, a University of Washington disease expert whose projections on COVID-19 infections and deaths are closely followed worldwide.

Scientists now believe that the coronavirus will not only remain with us as an endemic virus, continuing to circulate in communities, but will likely cause a significant burden of illness and death for years to come.

Even after vaccination, “I still would want to wear a mask if there was a variant out there,” said Dr Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to U.S. President Joe Biden.

Many people may well be looking towards a return to semi-normality, but “all you need is one little flick of a variant [sparking] another surge, and there goes your prediction,” Fauci added.

Nevertheless, some experts, including Murray, acknowledge that the outlook could improve. The new vaccines still appear to prevent hospitalisations and death, even when new variants are the cause of infection.

Several vaccine developers are also working on booster shots, as well as new inoculations that could retain a high level of efficacy against the variants.

Since vaccination programs began only a few months ago, infection rates have already started to decline, with some significant reductions in severe illness and hospitalisations among early recipients.

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