How frequent and how severe those breakthrough infections are have the potential to determine whether the United States can keep hospitalizations and deaths low or if the country will find itself in a “mad scramble” every couple of years, he said. “That’s the nightmare scenario,” said Jeffrey Shaman, an epidemiologist at Columbia University. “I think we’re going to be looking over our shoulders — or at least public health officials and infectious disease epidemiologists are going to be looking over their shoulders going: ‘All right, the variants out there — what are they doing? What are they capable of?” he said. “Maybe the general public can go back to not worrying about it so much, but we will have to.”
Unnerving scenarios remain on the path to this long-term vision. Though children spread the virus less efficiently than adults do, the experts all agreed that vaccinating children would also be important for keeping the number of Covid cases low. In the long term, the public health system will also need to account for babies, and for children and adults who age into a group with higher risk.
Over time, if not enough people are protected, highly contagious variants may develop that can break through vaccine protection, land people in the hospital and put them at risk of death. “That would resonate with people more than this somewhat elusive concept that experts are still trying to figure out,” she added.
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