It’s unlikely that the world will return to normal “pre-covid” life before 2022, Soumya Swaminathan, the World Health Organization’s chief science officer, said Tuesday.

“The way that people are picturing it is that in January you have vaccines for the whole world and things will start going back to normal,” Swaminathan told reporters, according to the South China Morning Post. But that “is not how it works,” she said, adding that the most realistic timeline places the rollout of a vaccine sometime in the middle of 2021. Even once that happens, she warned, immunizing a significant portion of the world’s population won’t happen overnight, and masking and social distancing will be necessary for quite some time.

“Those will have to continue after the vaccine starts getting rolled out, because we need 60 percent to 70 percent of the population to have immunity before you will start seeing a dramatic reduction in transmission of this virus,” Swaminathan said at a virtual meeting hosted by the United Nations Foundation, according to CNN. “We also don’t know how long these vaccines will protect for — that’s the other big question mark: How long does immunity last? And it’s possible that you will need a booster.”

Swaminathan’s dispiriting forecast was echoed this week by Bill Gates, the Microsoft co-founder whose philanthropic foundation is funding a number of vaccine efforts. In an interview with New York Magazine, Gates predicted that wealthy nations might succeed at getting the pandemic under control in 2021 but that global immunity seemed unlikely before 2022.

The logistical challenges of distributing billions of doses means that “even if 80 percent of all the vaccines get approved and we get all this capacity, to get the eradication it stretches into 2022,” Gates said. “You hope it doesn’t stretch past 2022.”

The Washington Post

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