A Vaccine - We’re Saved! A reality check?

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John Wilton-Davies

So, we’ve got at least three vaccines on the way.  One that’s 90% effective, one that’s 94% effective and one that is either 70% or 90%, depending on how much you’re given.

But surely they all depend on how much you’re given?  If a certain dose gives 90% protection, why is the media talking about a different dose too that has a lesser effect?

Either way, all these effectiveness rates are very impressive.  We were told at the outset that anything over 50% would be valuable, so surely this is the end of the problem?

Not so fast.  The level of protection afforded to each vaccinated individual may be 90%, but the protection given to society is better described as 90% multiplied by the proportion of people who are actually vaccinated.  Once you’ve been vaccinated - and it may take many months for this to happen to you, if indeed ever, depending on your age and health - you may then have to keep being vaccinated.  

Remember, we’ve been told that no one knows how long any immunity might last.  For now, even if you’ve had the virus, if you’re a close contact of someone who tests positive, you too have to isolate.  If this was rational, you’d also still have to isolate in the same circumstances even if you’ve been vaccinated.  The vaccine does nothing more or less to your immune system than a dose of Covid-19.  But who said we’re being rational here.

Still, let’s keep in the mindset of the mainstream media.  In six month’s time all the elderly and vulnerable will have had two injections.  The young probably won’t have even been offered it and those in the middle will be a mixed bag of those desperate to be inoculated and those who really don’t care as they never really felt at risk anyway.

Precautions will drastically diminish and life will start to revert to the old normal; packed buses and trains without a face mask in sight, busy pubs, nightlife going crazy with people making up for lost time - there will be nigh-on 750,000 youngsters who have turned 18 since the pandemic kicked in - and hospitals crammed with the back-log.

And then 90% effectiveness, times the proportion of those vaccinated, times the proportion of those who are currently immune, suddenly becomes a less impressive figure, and infections will rise, and rise.  And absolutely no one will be in the mood for one more day of lockdown or restrictions.  And so those who aren’t immune and are vulnerable, will be those who pay the price.

Hold on. Surely we just need to wait until everyone’s been vaccinated to minimise the risks and keep on protecting those who aren’t immune.  Except we’re not going to know who they are until they become infected.  And even then it’s going to take an awfully long time to inoculate everyone. The public probably don’t have the patience to wait that long.  And by the time everyone’s been vaccinated, it might well be past the time that those who were vaccinated first need a top-up.  And then we remember that Covid-19 is expected to behave just like the flu, and mutate, meaning we’ll need an ongoing stream of revised vaccines.

And, just like the flu, we won’t then have 90% effectiveness, as health officials will have to guess which mutation of the virus is likely to be prevalent next year.  If they guess wrong, immunity levels could plunge.  Even if they guess right, there’s nothing to prevent several versions of the virus from spreading at the same time.

What’s to be done then? As the more realistic observers have stated right from the start, we’ll just have to get used to it.  This is a virus that does nothing to the majority of people that catch it.  Like many respiratory illnesses, it’s riskier to the old and infirm and, oddly, whatever our age, seems to approximately double our risk of dying in the next 12 months.

Now, if you’re like me, you won’t know too many people who are normally terrified that they will die within a year and consequently wouldn’t be too worried if that risk doubled.  

So, let’s get a grip.  Let’s stop acting as though this is the worst thing that’s happened to humanity in hundreds of years.  It’s not.  Why has everyone forgotten that the point of lockdown was to stop everyone catching Covid-19 at once, and overwhelming the NHS?  It wasn’t to try to avoid catching it, but that’s how the nation now acts.  And let’s stop running around shouting “We’re saved” at the mention of a vaccine.  If we don’t, there’s every chance that infection rates and deaths will rise just at the moment we expect them to stop, and all panic all over again.

I really hope that we can have realistic expectations from the vaccines, understand that the disease will stay with us, and remember that unobtrusive precautions, such as improved indoor ventilation, air purification and better hygiene can protect us from all sorts of illnesses without any need to shut down the economy and isolate ourselves.

Funnily enough, we’re experts at unobtrusive protection.  If you have a business, are worried about people coming into your home, or think your employer could be doing more to protect you, without necessarily spending any more, then do get in touch with me, John Wilton-Davies, at Plain Air.  We’re always happy to chat.

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