Lessons on how to live with Covid-19 have yet to be learned

The writer is a scientific commentator

Saturday marks exactly two years since then I wrote about it first unexplained viral pneumonia that has affected 59 people in a Chinese city I have never heard of. The apparent connection to the live animal market, which reflects the origins of Sars-1, gave me a vague sense of foreboding, but I had no idea what was coming. World Health Organization has since recorded 300 million infected and 5.46 million dead.

Two years later, the start of 2022 exudes the past winters: hospitals in the UK are full of Covid-19 patients; coronavirus briefings, in which advisers Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty play Stone Face Cassandras in Boris Johnson’s Panglos, are returning to British screens; the reopening of schools amid ubiquitous expansion this year is on the brink of a knife as it was last January.

Yet this is 2022, not 2020 or 2021. Vaccines and antiviral drugs have changed the game of the pandemic in high-income countries. Now, mostly unvaccinated people take up intensive care beds. Science delivered what was required of it.

In addition, however, many lessons remain unlearned. The first is that vaccines alone, while protecting against serious illness and death, will not end a pandemic. They reduce transmission but do not stop it. In addition, much of our interconnected world remains unvaccinated. Both factors allow for continuous spread, which risks creating variants, such as Omicron, that can avoid immunity.

This has long been a compelling argument for both vaccinating the world and controlling transmission – but the first is still a distant prospect. Less than 4 percent of adults in Nigeria, the most populous African nation, have been fully vaccinated. The IMF warned in October that a “big split on vaccination” could cost the global economy $ 5.3 trillion over the next five years.

As far as transmission is concerned, we know that the spread of this airborne virus can be slowed down by measures such as masks, ventilation, remote work, testing and monitoring, isolation, quarantine and physical distancing where necessary. This approach to vaccines plus is clearly not a ‘lock’, but a way to prevent it.

This has not prevented some countries, such as England, from following their own chaotic path. Johnson’s reluctance to introduce measures against the hypertransmitting Omicron, despite expert advice, left the NHS overwhelmed. Omicron could be less serious than Delta, but patients still need beds and staff. Hospitals, affected by record levels of Covid-related staff absences, are suspending normal services and declaring critical incidents; military doctors are being recruited.

So many daily numbers of those infected – 180,000 new cases on Thursday – tests are now nearing completion and isolation periods have been shortened to avoid a shortage of critical infrastructure staff. Insufficient testing means losing sight of the virus. Countries with uncontrolled proliferation run the risk of storing uncertain future health burdens, including the long Covid, nurturing new variants, and putting them on the red list as restricted areas. Even a mass infection does not protect against future waves of disease. Clearly, the only viable way to learn to live with Covid-19, even the milder form, is to live with much less of it.

Still, countries like the UK and the US he still sticks to the myth that health and wealth are a zero-sum game. In fact, by keeping proliferation low, countries like South Korea and Taiwan have largely prevented long-term quarantines, minimized deaths and diseases, and made economic progress. In South Korea, with a population of 52 million, less than 6,000 people died. Britain, by contrast, lost 150,000 lives in the pandemic; in the United States, the death toll exceeds 675,000 deaths from the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. I did not expect to see such a high level of avoidable suffering normalized in rich economies. Better performance requires political leadership, including reliable health messages and a willingness to act early. Perfect data is the enemy of a good pandemic policy.

Maybe it took me a long time to learn the last, somewhat obvious lesson: that a pandemic is not shaped by the virus itself, but by our collective response to it. We have all come to this epidemic burdened with our previous hopes, beliefs, prejudices and fears. Faced with the worst pandemic in a century, I never expected so many of my fellow citizens to claim that Covid-19 was a scam, to reject safe and effective vaccines, to spread conspiracy theories and to make enemies of scientists, doctors and nurses. .

That was it Vaccine Confidence a project at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine that encouraged me to deal with those who think differently, not to condemn them. So I learned that for one thoughtful young adult of my acquaintance, rejecting Covid’s sting was an act of political rebellion.

For some, refusing the vaccine has nothing to do with distrust of science and everything has to do with preserving personal freedom in a crisis that has left many powerless. I would once sympathize with Emmanuel Macron, deciding that “fuck off“Unvaccinated in response to record levels of infection. Now, after waiting in line for gratitude for my third dose among those who came forward for their first, I wonder if empathy might help the pandemic end sooner.

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