New Zealand academics help plan world’s recovery from pandemic

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Two top New Zealand scientists are among members of a new international panel mapping future Covid-19 scenarios.

PE - Recife - 01/27/2021 - COVID-19 RECIFE, VACCINATION PRIORITY GROUPS - Health workers are seen during vaccination with AstraZeneca / Oxford vaccines in the Geraldao sports gymnasium, in the southern part of the city of Recife, Brazil, 27 Jan

While vaccines offer hope, the battle against the virus is not yet close to being won, Sir Peter Gluckman says (file pic).
Photo: AFP

Epidemiologist professor Sir David Skegg of the University of Otago and Auckland University professor Sir Peter Gluckman, the president-elect of the International Science Council (ISC), are part of an oversight panel for the recently launched ISC Covid-19 Scenarios Project.

The panel, which was announced today in The Lancet, will report on the possible Covid-19 scenarios the world faces over the next three to five years, and on the choices for governments, agencies, and citizens.

Sir Peter, who heads Koi Tū: The Centre for Informed Futures at the University of Auckland, initiated the ISC project. Decisions made in the next few months would affect how the world recovered from the pandemic, he said.

“At some stage the world will be dealing with a low level of endemic virus infection and global economic and social life will be recovering, but how we get there depends on many decisions by governments and individuals.

“While vaccines offer much hope, the battle against the virus is not yet close to being won.

“Different countries are in very different stages of the pandemic, the virus evolves, and access to vaccines and gaining effective lasting immunity will be a challenge in many countries. Yet the virus knows no borders.”

Sir David believed the chief value of the project would be to encourage governments and health policy makers to think about long-term outcomes.

“There are a number of possible scenarios as to how this pandemic will progress over the next few years. In the throes of a pandemic, it is natural to be making decisions about immediate priorities,” he said.

“But it is essential that there is also awareness about how those decisions will affect the ultimate outcome.”

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Sir David Skegg, left, and Sir Peter Gluckman are working with science leaders from around the world.
Photo: Supplied

Sir Peter said while many people viewed vaccines as the light at the end of the tunnel, unless there was massive international cooperation and a concerted global approach to vaccine availability, distribution and delivery, the world could face years of disruption.

“A nationalistic approach is not only morally wrong, but it could also delay any return to a level of normality – such as relaxed border controls. No country can be safe until all are safe.”

In a commentary, the authors said the virus may continue to mutate, which may accelerate transmission and reduce vaccine effectiveness, while naive assumptions about herd immunity, given the appearance of new and challenging variants of the virus, could seriously risk repeated outbreaks and recurrences.

The authors said the virus could probably never be globally eradicated because of its presence in many animals (including cats and dogs), and incomplete vaccine coverage and protection.

The panel of international science leaders also included representatives from the World Health Organisation, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, an advisor to US President Joe Biden’s Covid-19 advisory board and other microbiologists and epidemiologists.

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