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The face of hope in 2020 is 90-year-old Margaret Keenan, the first patient worldwide to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. After a year mostly spent self-isolating, she described her dose as “the best thing that’s ever happened”. It was welcome not only to her, and to her family, but to strangers across the land. In the gloom of winter, the rollout of the immunisation programme is a rare glimmer of light.
Though this year may seem to have stretched on for an eternity, it has been only months from sequencing the virus to deploying an approved vaccine. That is a truly astonishing achievement: a testament to the work of scientists and others around the world. Many more candidates are close behind it. Russia has already begun to deliver its Sputnik V vaccine. China has vaccinated more than a million people with the Sinopharm vaccine, still in its testing phase.
To receive the vaccine is, as Mrs Keenan said, a privilege – even if not everyone agrees. The spread of vaccine scepticism is disturbing, and will be best addressed through sensible discussion rather than boosterism. But the greater danger is that people will relax their guard. Even Mrs Keenan will not be safe until after she has received her second shot in three weeks time, and millions more judged to be highly vulnerable will have to wait months to be immunised. It will be a long time before we have sufficient doses.
If people are given false confidence by the use of the first batch, they may be more inclined to “tear the pants out of” relaxed restrictions, to use Prof Jonathan Van-Tam’s memorable phrase. Nottingham, already in tier 3, was forced to close its Christmas market last weekend after shoppers crammed in, and shots of packed streets in central London caused similar alarm. A leading public health expert has called for the capital to enter tier 3 within 48 hours, citing the sharp rise in cases to an average of 170 cases per 100,000, above the current rate in several places already in the higher level, such as Bristol and Coventry. Jeremy Farrar, a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) and director of the Wellcome Trust, warned that while a third wave is not inevitable, it will become so if greater household mixing over Christmas follows an increase in community transmission in December.
Weariness and despair at the impact of the regulations, confusion thanks to complicated and shifting rules, and the sense of unfairness engendered by high-profile breaches of the rules – or the decision to exempt “high-value” business travellers – are all taking their toll. Boris Johnson has previously accused the public of being “complacent”, and Matt Hancock has suggested that Britain has a “peculiarly unusual” culture of going to work when sick. But people in crowded housing, or jobs that are insecure in every sense, do not choose to risk exposure, and it is the government which has set and communicated the rules, and which determines how able people are to abide by them. Their failings in these regards have contributed to England’s Covid-19 death toll of more than 50,000.
Other countries too are deeply concerned about the weeks and months ahead. Germany’s health minister has said it may need tougher restrictions before Christmas, while Denmark is reinstating tighter curbs on 38 towns and cities, including Copenhagen and Aarhus. The situation is especially bleak in the US, now averaging around 200,000 cases, and which has recorded more than 3,000 deaths in one day. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert and soon to be chief medical adviser to the Biden administration, has warned that January could be “a real dark time”, suggesting Christmas could be more of a challenge than Thanksgiving due to its length.
The advent of the vaccine shows that there is an end in sight, at last. It is an opportunity too precious to be squandered. There can be no easing up on test and trace. There is no requirement to mingle at Christmas just because you can. Hope gives us all a reason to do our best.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: The Guardian view on Vaccine Day: an opportunity to seize | Coronavirus