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Think life will return to normal once we have a coronavirus vaccine? Here’s why it won’t

Published Aug 8th, 2020 9:01AM EDT

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  • The arrival of the first coronavirus vaccines will allow life to return to normal, Canada’s top health expert said during a briefing.
  • People will have to respect safety guidelines for several years after vaccines arrive, and that includes social distancing and wearing face masks.
  • Even with vaccine programs in place, face masks may be required for two to three more years, Dr. Theresa Tam said.

Health experts have been telling us for the past few weeks that the novel coronavirus is here to stay. It won’t go away on its own and we might never get rid of it, not even when vaccines and effective therapies can reduce transmission and prevent complications and death. That’s not as bad as it sounds. We’ve been living with the flu for a lot longer than that, and new influenza strains often cause pandemics of their own. Once we do have drugs effective against COVID-19, the virus will become just another infectious disease that we’ve managed to tame.

Unfortunately, it’ll be a few years until we get there. And we’ll have to practice social distancing and wear masks for years to come, even after the first vaccines reach the public. That’s according to Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam, who warned this week that vaccines aren’t a “silver bullet.”

Tam said during a briefing on Tuesday in Ottawa that vaccines won’t bring a swift end to the pandemic, according to CBC.

“We can’t at this stage just put all of our focus [on a vaccine] in the hopes that this is the silver bullet solution,” said Tam. “We’re going to have to manage this pandemic certainly over the next year, but certainly [we are] planning for the longer term of the next two to three years during which the vaccine may play a role, but we don’t know yet.”

The doctor emphasized the importance of social distancing, hand hygiene, and mask-wearing, and made it clear that vaccines won’t bring back normal life in the near future. It’s unclear how effective vaccines will be and how long immunity might last. Vaccine makers still need to figure out what doses to use and whether vaccines can prevent infection, or whether they can only prevent severe illness. Once a vaccine clears tests and receives regulatory approval for distribution, it won’t be available immediately to all people.

“It’s likely that there won’t be enough vaccines for the population,” Tam said. “So there’ll be prioritization, and we’re looking at that.” She said that she agreed with Dr. Anthony Fauci, who told Congress last week that he was “cautiously optimistic” that a vaccine will be available by the end of the year. That’s a line of thinking the top infectious disease expert has maintained for a few months now.

But Tam added that public health officials are planning for a scenario where safety measures will be required for a few more years. “[A vaccine] is one important layer of protection,” Canada’s top health expert said. “It is a very important solution if we get a safe and effective vaccine, but I would say that the public health measures that we have in place — the sort of personal, daily measures that we take — is going to have to continue.”

Tam also recommended that children over 10 wear face masks as well, and she said that the Public Health Agency of Canada will be publishing detailed guidelines for reopening schools in September. The US has no such guidelines.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.