We’ve been living with Coronavirus for about a year now and it’s been pretty terrible if we’re honest. Over 2 million deaths worldwide, lockdowns such as we have never experienced before, huge social and financial disruptions, and more. And just when we started to think (in late 2020) that the worst might be over, we hear about second waves, new virus-variants, vaccine controversy, and more.
So what’s going on?
Without a treatment or a vaccine, coronavirus (and any similar novel airborne virus) spreads more-or-less unchecked. Our only defense is to avoid inter-personal contact, and hence the lockdowns and other measures we have endured. As soon as lockdowns are eased and or people start mingling again, it is inevitable that the virus will start spreading again. While the timings and some details vary, this scenario has been played-out in many countries around the world already. Short of very-long and very-tough lockdowns, which we now know to be unsustainable, this is not avoidable really.
So most countries are adjusting lockdown-measures based on how well hospitals are coping – the big idea is to protect healthcare capacity so that we avoid unnecessary deaths (people dying because of lack of medical care). It’s a crude “blunt instrument” of a defence but it’s all we have so far. In essence the pattern of waves, and troughs, is a result of the freedom-lockdown-freedom- cycle we have been and are living through. We may see 2nd and 3rd and 4th and 5th waves, and so on, as the future unfolds.
By now we all heard of virus mutation and new variants emerging. This is normal, for a virus. All viruses mutate and we have already recorded thousands of coronavirus variants. Most mutations do not change the potency of the virus or the severity of disease or the efficacy of vaccines & treatments, and so they are largely irrelevant. BUT some mutations can result in significant clinical changes. The UK and SA variants seen in late 2020/early 2021 appear to spread more rapidly than the original virus, although they do not cause more severe disease or vaccine-resistance. Theoretically a mutation could result in a more-rapidly-spreading and more-potent virus that is vaccine-resistant, and this is a worry. Mercifully, this dire scenario is not a likely one.
International research has proceeded at a hitherto-unseen pace and the excellent news that there are now several vaccines being deployed internationally. The idea is to mass-vaccinate populations such that herd immunity results. Roughly speaking herd-immunity occurs when 60% of a population is immune – the virus then finds too-few susceptible people and gradually dies-off. This is the approach that worked in eradicating smallpox and polio. It appears to be the big hope for us all.
There are some who are hesitant about vaccines. Are they safe? Do they include some form of bio-marker that might later be used to invade our privacy and restrict our freedoms? Will vaccination-status be used in travel, employment, and other matters? It is worth noting that vaccines have an excellent track record regarding safety and efficacy so there is reason to feel confident here. The other concerns do appear somewhat “conspiracy-theory” in nature and are certainly beyond the scope of this article to comment on.
We encourage everyone to get vaccinated when they can. It is a personal decision and we respect everyone’s right to choose for themselves, but we do recommend vaccination.
So that summarises the situation at this time. The big hope appears to lie in mass vaccination, urgent world-wide mass vaccination. Meanwhile we are likely to see more waves and more variants and more deaths and the ongoing restriction of freedoms to save lives.