27 December 2020

STAT: “Beware the danger of ‘vaccine euphoria’”

We get so kind of blinded by vaccine euphoria — the light at the end of the tunnel — that we underestimate how long that tunnel is, and how dangerous that tunnel is, said Peter Sands, executive director of the Swiss-based Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which has expanded its mission to combat Covid.

For most of the countries the fund invests in, Sands added at a recent health summit hosted by the Milken Institute, vaccines are not going to be available at scale until late ‘21 at the earliest, and a lot of lives are going to be lost in that time in between.

So hand-washing, mask-wearing, social distancing — and, experts warn, a healthy new dose of cognitive dissonance — will continue to be the daily reality for most of us for months to come.

Todd S. Purdum

An important point that I don’t think gets enough attention from the public. There are many factors contributing to this, many scenarios how societies may fail to control the pandemic despite vaccines becoming available. The one presented in this article questions how long people will continue to follow basic prevention measures if they assume vaccinations will instantly ‘solve’ the pandemic. This is especially problematic as the currently approved vaccines require two doses four weeks apart, and the optimum virus protection only sets in around two weeks after the second dose. Even so, vaccinated people should continue to weak masks, as it is uncertain for now if vaccinations stop transmission, or just protect people from becoming sick.

Pfizer Covid vaccines
Michael A. McCoy for The New York Times

Another idea that has been circulating around Twitter is that maybe one dose offers enough protection and it would speed up the process to have this as an option. Personally, I am very wary of this approach; I’m fine with additional studies to see if a single dose is efficient, but spreading this idea around publicly could undermine the official message and incite more people to skip their second dose. A single dose may be sufficient in the short run, but the immune protection may wear off more quickly. Or, even worse, it could generate a weak immune response, enough for people to avoid getting sick, but leaving the virus to circulate in the body and silently spread to others, possibly even mutate into a resistant variant. In that case the pandemic would restart and all previous efforts would have been in vane. Rushing to vaccinate without following the recommended procedure may end up doing more harm then good, just as rushing to lift lockdowns allowed the virus to spread even further.

The third scenario I was thinking about was a seemingly more fortunate development, where some countries manage to bring the spread back under control with lockdowns and distancing. But this in turn reduces the urgency to vaccinate the majority of the population; both people and government fail to keep up the vaccination schedule… and the virus returns in the autumn of 2021 to find an unprepared population. A small bit of good news here is that the willingness to vaccinate looks to be increasing lately, at least in the US.

It is going to require a tremendous amount of discipline from authorities and every one of us to finally contain the pandemic – and, if 2020 has taught us something, it’s that most of us lack even the most basic level of discipline…

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