Just how good are Vaccines?
After taking the world by storm and seeming to perform better than many thought they would, are vaccines the answer to all our problems?
17th March 2021 18:00 GMT
There is no doubt that the vaccine rollout, has been a huge success. The fact that we have viable vaccines less than a year after the UK first when into lockdown is a testament to modern science. There have already been over 150 million vaccines administered, which is higher than the 150 million predicted deaths from the start of the pandemic. Considering the bleak visions we all had in early 2020, this is nothing short of a miracle. The immunity provided has been higher than it was thought to be in testing for many of the vaccines, and hospital admissions are already lower than they were this time last year.
The phrase ‘herd immunity’ is used often by those in power who are trying to sell the importance of the jab. If we are all immune to the virus, it will die down and stay quiet, but this goes back to the infamous R number. Used more at the start of the pandemic, this number is the average number of people that someone with COVID will infect. The importance of keeping this below one is immeasurable. The spread of a virus is an exponential curve because the rate of increase (or decrease) depends on the number of people with the disease right now. This is what makes COVID so much more deadly than the flu. Its R number, if left unchecked, will be very high. This means that the virus will spread quickly and infect many.
But, if the R number is below 1, the opposite is true. As fewer and fewer people have the virus, fewer and fewer people will pass it on, and progress that will seem slow at the start will quickly turn into a steep downward curve in case numbers. But this is where vaccines fail. This ‘herd immunity’ with an average R below one, is only possible with an estimated 80% of the population vaccinated, and with almost 17% of the population refusing jabs, it takes only a few more to be missed out until the curve is bending upwards.
Vaccines are a hazy solution to lowering cases. But what they can do is keep deaths low, and with low deaths will come low hospital admissions. The importance of low hospital admissions cannot be understated. World leaders have already accepted that the vaccine won’t just disappear and that it will take time to get back to a world without lockdowns. We have learned that cases may stay high in the coming months, especially with the easing of lockdown restrictions, but the true purpose of vaccines is to lower hospital admissions.
It may seem counter-intuitive and almost utilitarian to put the hospitals above the death rate, but of course, with overwhelmed health services, comes death elsewhere. We must learn to adapt, not overcome COVID, and the first step of this is restoring our hospitals back to working order. The days of COVID wards will soon be over, allowing for fully operational hospitals. In the UK, NHS staff have been hailed for their incredible work during this time. And rightfully so. It seems that their hard work may pay off in the end, for they are vaccinating not just for the country, but for themselves too.
Worries about the AstraZeneca jab are rife, after a scare involving a link to the jab and high blood clots, but these have since been proved wrong. This will still influence participation however, and the government must now prioritise education if it is to achieve the utopia of herd immunity. Vaccines may not solve all our problems, but they won’t be far off.