The World Health Organization’s chief scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, warned that even as numerous countries start rolling out vaccination programs to stop COVID-19, herd immunity is highly unlikely this year.

At a media briefing on Monday, Swaminathan said it was critical that countries maintain strict social distancing and other outbreak control measures for the foreseeable future. In recent weeks, Britain, the US, France, Canada, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands and others have begun vaccinating millions of citizens against the coronavirus.

“Even as vaccines start protecting the most vulnerable, we’re not going to achieve any levels of population immunity or herd immunity in 2021,” Swaminathan said. “Even if it happens in a couple of pockets, in a few countries, it’s not going to protect people across the world.”

Swaminathan's warning comes as countries around the world are struggling to establish the best and safest plans for schools. Amid the pandemic, schools remain a constantly changing patchwork of in-person, remote and hybrid learning programs.

Related discussion: The year ahead in the coronavirus pandemic

What can be done to assess and mitigate long-term risks of what many fear could be a lost year for school children?

As part of The World's regular series fo conversation on the pandemic, reporter Elana Gordon moderated a discussion with Harvard education expert Meira Levinson, and Harvard Chan School of Public Health epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch who addressed the latest science on children’s susceptibility to the virus and ability to infect others, and what impacts, if any, are there in the classroom environment?

Related discussion: Airborne transmission, ventilation, and reopening schools and workplaces

This conversation is presented jointly with The Forum at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The AP contributed to this post.

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