A study released on Friday has raised fresh concerns that easing Covid restrictions before countries have achieved full inoculation could significantly increase the risk vaccine-resistant strains emerging, allowing them to thrive.
Modelling conducted by Austria’s Institute of Science and Technology, in a pan-European study with the Bank of Spain and University of Geneva Medical School, advised officials to maintain Covid restrictions until they have achieved full vaccination or herd immunity to avoid the rise of vaccine-resistant variants.
The warning comes as countries begin to emerge from lockdown restrictions, returning to normal as they achieve significant progress in their vaccination programs. The United Kingdom dropped all legal Covid restrictions on July 19, in what was dubbed ‘Freedom Day’, while the EU has largely reopened travel across the bloc and internationally to help domestic economies rebound.
“Evolution is a very powerful force and maintaining some reasonable precautions throughout the whole vaccination period may actually be a good tool to control this evolution,” the study urged governments.
The modeling provided a simulation of how Covid would be impacted by vaccination programs, including the emergence of potential vaccine-resistant strains, affecting a population of 10 million people over three years.
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While scientists found that rapidly administering doses to citizens reduces the risk of mutated strains developing, the model also showed that the greatest risk of a vaccine-resistant variants emerging comes when restrictions are prematurely eased before herd immunity is reached.
“What our model showed is that when most people are vaccinated, the vaccine-resistant strain has an advantage over the original strain,” the study highlighted, warning that “this means that the vaccine-resistant strain spreads through the population faster than the original strain at a time when most people are vaccinated.”
Researchers pointed to the spread of the Delta variant across Europe as evidence of how the virus can rapidly transmit between non-vaccinated individuals, putting pressure on domestic health services.
Currently, over 3.8 billion doses of a Covid vaccine have been administered globally, according to data provided to the World Health Organization, although there is significant disparity between Western nations, with high vaccine rates, and African countries, which are struggling to secure enough vaccines.
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