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So near, and yet so far. Just as the Covid vaccine seemed within reach of fortysomethings, it looks like we may not be getting it in time for lockdown lifting in April.
Matt Hancock, the health secretary, did his best to put a brave face on things at yesterday’s press conference, insisting the target to get all adults vaccinated by July would still be met. But it’s clear from a leaked letter sent out across the NHS that a reduction in supplies could put back jabs for healthy under-50s until May.
There go my hopes of doing the golden double, otherwise known as getting both the vaccine and a proper haircut by the middle of next month.
It’s galling, obviously, but hardly the end of the world. Healthy 40-somethings have a vanishingly low risk of dying from Covid, so prioritising second jabs for our elderly parents over first jabs for us seems fair enough when supplies are short. The timetable for ending lockdown isn’t changing and we will emerge better protected this time than last, thanks to others who have already been vaccinated. Research suggests living with someone who has had the jab reduces your risk of catching Covid by 30%, and plenty of fortysomethings will have partners old enough to sneak under the wire. Parents gain some peace of mind, meanwhile, from our kids being tested twice weekly at school. Yes, it’s annoying to be that in-between age: too young for the jab, still old enough to be considered more or less dead by teenagers. But since last summer, people were openly questioning whether there would ever be a viable coronavirus vaccine at all, I’ll take that.
But all that said, this is the first rumble of thunder on the horizon after weeks of sunny vaccine-induced optimism, and it may not be the last. This week the European commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, revived threats to restrict vaccine exports – the majority of which are Pfizer – to the UK, if EU countries whose own vaccine rollouts have been painfully slow don’t get more doses of the AstraZeneca jab being produced in Britain.
Both sides know that nobody wins from this kind of protectionism; that while Britain does rely in part on doses manufactured in EU countries, the EU also needs supplies of materials from Britain. But scarcity is all too often the enemy of reason. If supplies start to run really short in countries whose leaders are under intense political pressure – which has always been a risk given the complexities of producing these vaccines – things could get ugly fast. And the past year should have taught us that no country is safe until its neighbours are. The last thing Britain needs, however well our own vaccine rollout goes, is a third wave of Covid exploding on our doorstep which raises the risk of further mutations.
The heroic drive to get Britain vaccinated has so far been the one shining success of an otherwise dismal year for the government, earning it a bounce in the polls heading into local elections among those voters still seeking excuses to give Boris Johnson the benefit of the doubt. Crucially, it has also fuelled a surge in economic confidence that may prove essential to saving jobs. Nothing is likely to come between the young and the chance of a social life. But will my generation still book foreign holidays and restaurant tables, return to offices and buy clothes fit to leave the house in, with quite the same gleeful abandon this spring if the vaccine rollout runs into trouble?
Fingers crossed, then, for nothing worse than a brief temporary hiccup. But if nothing else, it’s a warning that a lockdown now visibly fraying at the edges is still in force for a reason, and that cool heads must prevail between Britain and the rest of Europe. We’re by no means out of the woods yet.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Britain’s sunny vaccine optimism is hit by the first rumble of thunder – it may not be the last | Gaby Hinsliff | Opinion