Pathways Issue 5: Research to Combat COVID-19 | Page 18

“ Surveillance and modelling are critical for determining whether an outbreak is growing , shrinking , or holding steady and ultimately informing the health emergency response in B . C .”
— Dr . David Patrick
We needed emergency planners and the health care system to prepare for something beyond recent experience . Those early , but startling statistics got their attention .
DP : As we accrued cases , we were able to inform our models based on B . C . data . We soon began building on our observations , developing sophisticated models to predict the spread with more precision , looking at the nuanced interactions between individuals by age and by geographical setting . Those more precise models have proven critical for developing forecasts for various situations , like returning to work and re‐opening schools .
What if the virus has evolved by the time a vaccine is ready ? What happens then ?
DP : This virus will evolve . All viruses evolve . But unlike influenza that can exchange genetic material rapidly between pigs and birds and humans and come up with something brand new , this novel coronavirus is not mutating at a rate where we anticipate a new vaccine could not be utilized .
Based on your work , how far away are we from herd immunity ?
DS : This virus is humanized now , it ’ s not going away — we have to find a way to live with it . In B . C ., like elsewhere , our population immunity is not much better than it was when COVID-19 first arose . If we let down our guard , if we relax physical distancing too much , more cases are inevitable . We need to strike the right balance between health-care impacts and socioeconomic consequences .
The role of seasonality remains uncertain but , in the absence of herd immunity , we should be preparing for a series of undulations in the epidemic curve as we relax or enhance mitigation measures .
DP : We have not had enough exposure in the population to achieve herd immunity yet . Without any additional tools ( new therapeutics or a vaccine ) to manage the spread , the next several months will be a test of our society and our will .
Maintaining physical distancing , washing our hands , staying at home when we ’ re sick and taking other preventative measures will remain critical .
We are going to be watching what this virus does very carefully over time , and the equitable distribution of the vaccine is one of the areas we are now modelling to help inform the Office of the Provincial Health Officer .