A vaccine developer at the Baylor College of Medicine told Business Insider that people should not expect an immediate return to normal life once a vaccine is available.
Several companies are working as quickly as possible to develop a safe and effective vaccine, which has been viewed by some as necessary for lockdowns to end and schools to reopen. While a vaccine may significantly reduce the risk of serious disease from the novel coronavirus, social distancing and face masks may still be a part of life, said vaccine developer Maria Elena Bottazzi.
"They automatically are going to say, 'oh great, I'm just going to get my little vaccine, and I can go back and do exactly the things I was doing last year,'" Bottazzi told Business Insider. "That is absolutely not true."
Ideally, Bottazzi said, a vaccine would give sterilizing immunity, meaning it would totally prevent people from becoming infected. Many vaccines don't reach that level of effectiveness, however, and only reduce the chance of developing severe symptoms of a particular disease.
Vaccines improve over time, which means the first version of the COVID-19 vaccine that is made available to the public might not be 100% effective. In fact, Moderna's vaccine, which is entering phase 3 of trials, is aiming to demonstrate 60% effectiveness.
Moderna CEO Stephanie Bancel said that if the vaccine reaches 90% effectiveness, then people can safely stop wearing masks — unless they have high-risk health conditions, in which case they may need to continue wearing them. Bancel said the company hopes to know more about their vaccine's efficacy as early as October or as late as December.
For comparison, the 2019-2020 flu vaccine is only about 45% effective against the seasonal flu and typically ranges between 40% and 60% effectiveness every year. A vaccine was never successfully developed for the SARS coronavirus in 2002, and eventually demand for such a vaccine went away, as the virus ran its course and mostly disappeared without spreading nearly as widely as COVID-19 has.
In summary, the masks could be here to stay through the end of 2020, and potentially even longer depending on how successful the COVID-19 vaccines are.
"The moment you get a vaccine doesn't mean you're going to put your mask in the trash," Bottazzi told Business Insider. "That is not going to happen. I hope people don't think that is going to be the magic solution for all."