Dec 15, 2020 07:47 PM

Zhang Wenhong: Here’s When the Pandemic Could Be Contained

Zhang Wenhong.
Zhang Wenhong.

Zhang Wenhong is director of the infectious diseases department at Huashan Hospital in Shanghai.

Next year will be crunch time for getting Covid-19 under control as countries around the world will be pushing vaccination. Considering the limited medical resources, it’s nearly impossible to vaccinate everyone in the world, though the countries able to produce vaccines domestically will be able to start. The U.S. and several developed European countries have already unveiled sweeping vaccination plans that offer the prospect of containing the pandemic. The question is: if all goes well, when will the pandemic be contained?

Colleagues and I have modeled different scenarios for America’s vaccine rollout. Here are some of our forecasts.

If U.S. 100-day vaccination plan succeeds

The first scenario looks at what happens if U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s 100-day vaccination plan goes well. Under the plan, the U.S. aims to distribute 100 million vaccine doses in his first 100 days in office, enough to cover 50 million people, as two doses are required per person. According to public opinion polls, half of the remaining unvaccinated Americans are willing to be vaccinated. Under our model, the R0 indicator — a key indicator for predicting the spread of an outbreak — will fall to a level in late June or early July that signals a turning point in the outbreak and means the pandemic will be largely under control.

However, if only 25% of the remaining Americans are willing to be vaccinated, then that turning point might not come until September to October.

If Biden’s vaccination plan fails

The second scenario forecasts what would happen if Biden’s plan is only 50% effective, meaning that only 25 million people get the vaccinated in his first 100 days in office. In this case, if more than half of the remaining people are willing to take the shot, then the pandemic will not be under control until late August or early September 2021; if only 25% of the remaining Americans get vaccinated, then the turning point could be delayed until the spring of 2022.

Vaccination is a must for a global reopening

The global death rate now stands around 2.5%, which is lower than the death rate of the 1918 influenza pandemic. That likely due to advances in medical technology, the fact that there are sufficient medical resources help infected patients survive and because younger people are less susceptible to the virus.

As long as medical resources remain adequate, the death rate could fall below 1% — about its level in Singapore and China. In the U.S., the death rate now stands at about 1.86%.

As for countries that don’t have sufficient medical resources, reopening borders or forcing herd immunity without the protection of vaccination will bring catastrophe.

China has a year to get its population vaccinated

China isn’t under great pressure to get its population vaccinated immediately, but it will need to do so in the longer term.

We believe it will take up to a year for countries with adequate vaccine resources like the U.S. to fully contain the coronavirus. China’s eventual victory over the virus will also depend on the effective global containment.

Consequently, China has no more than a one-year window to immunize its population and build up its immunization strength.

Until the entire population is vaccinated, we will continue with our current strategy to enhance the precision control and prevention of the disease.

Translated by intern reporter Ju Yiwen.

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