COVID-19 vaccination programs have been initiated in several countries to control SARS-CoV-2 transmission and return to a pre-pandemic lifestyle. However, understanding when non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) can be lifted as vaccination builds up and how to update priority groups for vaccination in real-time remain key questions for policy makers. To address these questions, we built a data-driven model of SARS-CoV-2 transmission for China. We estimated that, to prevent local outbreaks to escalate to major widespread epidemics, stringent NPIs need to remain in place at least one year after the start of vaccination. Should NPIs be capable to keep the reproduction number (Rt) around 1.3, a vaccination program could reduce up to 99% of COVID-19 burden and bring Rt below the epidemic threshold in about 9 months. Maintaining strict NPIs throughout 2021 is of paramount importance to reduce COVID-19 burden while vaccines are distributed to the population, especially in large populations with little natural immunity.