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Vaccines may not be enough on their own to put an end to the COVID-19 pandemic

Researchers say effectively tracking the virus and stopping transmission could be difficult

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It wasn’t long ago that President Joe Biden announced his goal of having 100 million Americans vaccinated during the first 100 days of his administration. While the goal seemed lofty at the time, health officials are expressing optimism about the current rate of vaccinations. They say at least 72 million people -- representing just over 20 percent of the U.S. population -- have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. 

But will vaccines themselves be enough to put an end to the pandemic? Researchers from Georgetown University Medical Center aren’t so sure. They point out that, while vaccines are an important tool, they may not decisively put a stop to the virus’s spread.

"We can't rely on vaccination alone to control the pandemic. Vaccines are great for protecting people against disease, but we don't yet know how well they work to protect against transmission,” said Dr. Angela L. Rasmussen. “Just like the vaccines don’t offer a hundred percent protection against getting sick, they also aren’t a hundred percent likely to protect against transmission.” 

Trouble with symptomless cases

Further complicating the goal of tackling transmission of the virus is the pervasiveness of symptomless cases of COVID-19. The researchers point out that silent transmission of the virus is a key factor allowing it to spread, likely because consumers may be less careful about mitigation efforts if they don’t feel sick or haven’t developed symptoms yet. 

The team says that tracking asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission of COVID-19 is difficult to achieve, but health officials will need to do their best as more vaccinations are completed and the pandemic moves into its next stage.

"Until there is widespread implementation of robust surveillance and epidemiological measures that allow us to put out these smokeless fires, the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be fully extinguished,” the researchers stated.

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