The only real way out of the Covid-19 pandemic is through vaccination. We now have at least nine highly efficacious and safe vaccines to deploy, with four of these – Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, Astra Zeneca and Johnson and Johnson – so far approved for use in the EU. Most importantly, real world data from Israel and the UK tells us how powerful vaccines can be in the fight. This week, Israel reported 85 percent fewer daily deaths, 72 percent fewer critical cases and 86 percent fewer daily cases [editor’s note: compared to the peak in mid-January]. Similar data is emerging in the US and UK. All three countries have performed spectacularly well in their vaccination campaigns and give us all a beacon of hope. We will know the pandemic is over when we see a sustained drop in the excess death rate which is still too high in many countries and showing upward trends in others, including Germany and France.
But countries can begin to consider what the immediate “vaccine bonus” might look like. The US Center for Disease Control has issued guidance on what you can do if you are fully vaccinated (meaning two doses of the vaccines approved there). You can visit people indoors, with others who are fully vaccinated, without social distancing (meaning hugs are allowed) and no masks (you can see someone’s smile). You can also meet with someone in the same way, even if they’re not vaccinated, but only if they aren’t in a vulnerable group. This means a vaccinated grandmother can visit her daughter and grandchildren.
Widespread vaccination therefore remains mission one and yet in Europe we see distractions. Few governments are covering themselves in glory. Several countries paused the roll out of the AstraZeneca vaccine because of reports of rare clotting disorders. They went against the advice of the European Medicines Agency (EMA), World Health Organisation (WHO), and the International Society for Thrombosis and Hemostasis who all said to continue vaccinating while the data was being examined. The EMA reported that all was well but sadly time was lost and vaccine hesitancy increased, putting lives at risk. At least the AstraZeneca vaccine is back on track.
Because the EU has been performing poorly overall with the rate of vaccination due to issues with supply there is also talk of controlling vaccine exports from the EU. None of this helps an already frazzled population who need careful attention. What’s needed is a coordinated vaccination effort for the world as “no one is safe until everyone is safe.” More equitable vaccine distribution on a global scale is needed. It would be unethical if healthy, low-risk adults are being vaccinated in some countries, while in others those most at risk are left unvaccinated.
Apart from reasons of morality, widespread vaccination is also needed to prevent new variants from emerging that might be more troublesome. Some of these are already a concern and we don’t want more.
And yet we must remain hopeful. Vaccine supply issues should be resolved in the next couple of months. Pharmaceutical companies are helping each other in unprecedented ways, with for example Sanofi helping to manufacture the Johnson and Johnson and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines. And COVAX continues to provide great leadership in the effort to vaccinate the developing world.
As the days get brighter, we can therefore feel brighter too. We’ll have a perfect coming together of being outdoors more (which decreases the risk of catching Covid-19 massively) and a big scale up in vaccinations. We’ll still need to be careful for a few more months. And then we can look back and say we did the best we could for our people, saved lives and protected people from serious illness. We can re-engage with our lives like never before. We’ll never forget this pandemic but we can draw on how we responded, feel proud and try to make the world a better place for everyone because of what we’ve been through. Now isn’t that something to look forward to?