Vaccine’s impact clear in UVA’s COVID-19 model

A vaccine being administered to a patient.
A vaccine being administered to a patient.(NBC)
Updated: Mar. 23, 2021 at 2:56 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - The UVA computer model used by the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) to forecast COVID-19 predicts better days ahead. One of its designers says that’s because of climbing vaccinations, but the state is not out of the woods just yet.

Once known for its worst-case, negative scenarios, the projections now show the light at the end of the tunnel getting brighter. Vaccines and cold weather are behind the recent drop in case, according to UVA computational epidemiologist Bryan Lewis. That decline is starting to level off, but that’s where the impact of vaccines is being felt.

“I think we’re already feeling a little bit less of a rapid rebound, because of the vaccines that are already out there,” Lewis said.

With spring break and summer vacations around the corner, a new surge could be around the corner, despite growing vaccination rates.

“The vaccines are definitely going to keep some downward pressure on that, although a lot of the folks that you’re talking about with spring breaks and things are probably not quite been vaccinated yet,” he explained. “There’s still enough uninfected people out there that we can create a reasonably sized peak, something similar to what we saw in January. So there’s a lot of infections, and a lot of hospitalizations, and deaths that we still need to try and avoid.”

Lewis says the best bet is to give the vaccines time to work and health districts time to get as many people vaccinated as possible. That’s especially important with more contagious virus variants already spotted in Virginia.

“While really exciting - we’ve got vaccine, we’re rolling it out, it is getting in arms -things just aren’t quite to that point of back to normal,” he said. “Hopefully we’re a tick or two closer to it, but people need to continue to take precautions.”

Looking ahead, he echoes other health experts and expects COVID-19 to stick around as a seasonal virus. Forecasting like the kind done at UVA’s Biocomplexity Institute could play a key role in keeping track of the seasonal waves.

“Monitoring that, seeing how it ebbs and flows, allowing the healthcare systems to sort of plan for the surges, or they may come,” Lewis explained. “It may hopefully become just, you know, we have a flu wave and we have a COVID wave, maybe, for a couple of years.”

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