It has been more than a year since the first outbreak in Wuhan and many of us still remain in lockdown around the globe. The vaccine rollout is starting to happen across some countries – namely the US, UK, and Israel but doubts have arisen regarding its effectiveness. The vaccine itself may protect you from getting seriously ill but it is still unknown whether you can be a spreader and pass the disease on. You also need more than one dose to be sufficiently protected. This, along with the many variants of the disease starting to crop up, has led some to question if life will ever return to normal?
It is clear that the world has entered a new normal of some sorts; where masks, social distancing and periodic lockdowns have become a reality. It is unlikely masks and social distancing will be stopped anytime soon but there is a growing desire to get closer to answers regarding lockdown. When it will be lifted? How many more periodic lockdowns will be set in place? How long can economies and the mental health of people go on in this state? The vaccine seems to be only the route out but it is important to remember that variants of the disease will continue to mutate and that it is highly unlikely we will ever rid the planet of COVID completely. Some see the possibility of vaccination passports as the answer to returning to normality; being able to track who has been “protected” could open up bars, restaurants, and the leisure industry. Talk among airlines has already circulated about the possibility of barring future customers from travelling if they have not been vaccinated. This raises some ethical concerns, however, since limiting people’s movements based on whether they have had a vaccine or not could be seen as an infringement on personal freedoms. It is unlikely that this would pass without opposition so it would have to be done with careful consideration to those who are against the idea. If vaccination is our route out there is also always the question of time and money. The vaccination rollout in the UK and many other countries is primarily aimed at targeting the elderly and vulnerable first, leaving other groups to wait a little longer. In some ways this move makes sense – the death rate among the elderly and vulnerable is higher compared to those with no pre-existing conditions. However, it has been found that the super spreaders are the young and healthy which leads some to question the government’s stance on the vaccine rollout. Surely the vaccine should be given to the super spreaders first, especially since they are the ones most likely to mix and mingle outside their household? The majority of the vulnerable and elderly are aware of the risk and are shielded which could be a good reason to start vaccinating other groups early too.
Experts at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine have also suggested that at least 50% of the population needs to be vaccinated before measures can be relaxed. With the vaccine rollout requiring multiple doses it is unlikely that the process will be a simple or a quick fix to freedom. The majority of scientists agree that the vaccination of the elderly does not mean an end to lockdown – it simply means a step in the right direction. Once the majority of the population has been vaccinated measures can start to be relaxed but even then it is a dangerous game. Stephen Evans, professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene highlights this concern and the need to remain vigilant. “I think if people take these seriously, then it’s possible for various economic activities to go ahead, but you have to make sure that you are keeping to the non-medical interventions, being aware and behaving as if every person you contact has got the virus.” It is a sad but sobering truth; we are still a long way off before normality returns. However, the resilience that the human race has shown in spite of these difficulties goes to show our strength and ability to overcome obstacles. Masks and social distancing may stick around for quite some time, even after the pandemic, but the economy cannot stay closed forever. As well as the risks to mental health and the global economy, tension will begin to mount if an exit strategy is not outlined soon. There has to be other measurers of success and failure in place with regards to the virus and not just a focus on case numbers and causalities. There has to also be a greater focus on the economy, impacts on businesses, the welfare and education of our children as well as the broader impacts on mental health.
© Whitestone Chambers