Other experts said this scenario is not only plausible, it is likely.
“I fully agree with the overall intellectual construct of the paper,” said Shane Crotty, a virologist at the La Jolla Institute of Immunology in San Diego.
If the vaccines prevent people from transmitting the virus, “it’s much more like the measles scenario where you vaccinate everyone, including children, and the virus really doesn’t infect people,” said Dr. Crotty.
It’s more plausible that the vaccines prevent disease – but not necessarily infection and transmission, he added. And that means the coronavirus will continue to circulate.
“The vaccines we currently have are unlikely to offer sterilizing immunity,” said Jennifer Gommerman, an immunologist at the University of Toronto.
A natural infection with the coronavirus leads to a strong immune response in the nose and throat. But with the current vaccines, Dr. Gommerman: “You don’t get a natural immune response in the actual upper airways, you get an injection in your arm.” This increases the likelihood that infections will still occur after vaccination.
Ultimately, Dr. Lavine’s model on the assumption that the new coronavirus is similar to the common cold coronavirus. But that assumption might not be correct, warned Marc Lipsitch, epidemiologist at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.
“Other coronavirus infections may or may not be applicable as we haven’t seen what these coronaviruses can do to an elderly, naive person,” said Dr. Lipsitch. (Naive refers to an adult whose immune system has not been exposed to the virus.)