Progress in the nine months since the worldwide Covid-19 vaccination campaign began has been significant, but the virus remains a formidable foe. With the Delta variant rapidly gaining ground and fears of a massive surge and new lockdowns in the fall, it is worth noting a few fundamental things we have learned from the delivery of 5 billion vaccine shots.
First, vaccines remain our best weapon against the pandemic. The bad news is that their efficacy against Delta is limited, but the good is that they are very effective in preventing serious illness and/or death. Thanks to extensive coverage in the northern hemisphere, the pressure from rising cases in the winter will be much less on public health systems.
Secondly, the vaccination race is a marathon with constant twists and turns. For example, the severity of the fourth wave in Israel – at the forefront of the vaccination drive – appears linked to the fact that immunity wanes faster from the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine than from the much-maligned AstraZeneca shot, mainly because of the time lapse between the two doses for the latter.
The confirmed waning of immunity, moreover, has already led countries like the United States, Israel and the United Kingdom to approve a booster shot, prompting reactions from the World Health Organization over the shortage of vaccines in poorer parts of the world. The need to vaccinate the most vulnerable in the developing world continues to be sidelined in favor of vaccinating children and further protecting already vaccinated people in wealthier countries.
Lastly, the vaccination drive is an endurance test. The European Union, whose strategy came under fierce criticism last winter, has achieved greater coverage than the US. Greece, unfortunately, has dropped from the top tiers of the EU27 in April to below average. It is imperative that we look at what countries like Belgium, Portugal and Sweden – which swept past us – are doing right. The prime minister insists that the country will not go into lockdown again for the sake of a “few unvaccinated individuals,” but the fact is that 45% of the population has not even had one dose yet.