A Covid Christmas and the biggest ‘Herdle’ to overcome

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This Christmas turkey prices will not be the only statistic spike to be witnessed. The Covid-19 virus has been around for almost 2 years now with a death toll of 5 million, yet light at the end of this tunnel is nowhere to be seen as we are on our way to our second ‘Covid Christmas’, a Christmas with its joy overshadowed by mask mandates, lockdowns and social distancing. Many countries on a global scale are seeing a drastic spike in Covid cases and governments are constantly forced to play an endless tug of war game between removing restrictions, mandates and lockdowns and reinstating them.

 

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You can expect to hear sighs followed by “Will this ever end?” at the dinner table this Christmas. After reading this blog, you will be able to answer that question. In short, the answer is: Yes, maybe?

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Before I can answer why the pandemic is still ongoing despite the international efforts to stop it, it is important to explain how Covid-19 is supposed to end in the first place.

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Many diseases and their pandemics before Covid-19 have ended through immunity. This is also the goal for Covid-19. The goal is to achieve herd immunity. This type of immunity is achieved when enough people, also known as the herd, in a community have developed antibodies against future infections. 

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This can be achieved either true infection or vaccination. This is important, because when enough people have achieved immunity through antibodies, the chain of transmission of the virus is weakened. This means that it is harder for the virus to spread, because most people are protected against it through their antibodies.

On a national scale this is important, because it allows the group of people who cannot get vaccinated, to return to their normal lives again. They still cannot get vaccinated or risk infection, but because everyone else is protected against the virus, the virus cannot be spread around anymore, which means it is safe for the unvaccinated to join their society again.

On an international scale however, it is even more important to achieve herd immunity. As long as Covid-19 exists, it is a threat to all nations. Let us go back to the case of a country with herd immunity. The unvaccinated are safe, but not for long due to surrounding countries with lower vaccination rates and no herd immunity. The virus would still spread across borders from neighbouring countries as a result of globalisation, international trade and movement across borders.

This is why it is so important to not only achieve herd immunity on a national level, but also on a global level. As long as there are countries without herd immunity, the virus will spread and mutate. In the worst case this could cause the virus to mutate in a way that allows it to ignore our vaccinations, forcing us to start all over again.

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If the answer to ending the Covid-19 pandemic is so obvious, then why has it not been ended yet? It is not easy to achieve herd immunity, especially not on a global scale. It requires cooperation from everyone involved: health organisations, vaccine distributors, governments and their citizens.

There are 2 main reasons as to why it is so difficult to achieve herd immunity right now. Those 2 reasons are vaccine hesitancy and vaccine inequity.

Vaccine hesitancy means being hesitant to take the vaccine. There are several reasons as to why people might feel hesitant to take any of the Covid-19 vaccines. The reasons range from religious objections and scepticism to misinformation and a lack of understanding of the published information about Covid-19. Let us take a look at the most important reasons.

 
   

If you refuse to take the vaccine because your religion or beliefs do not allow you to take it, you are vaccine hesitant based on religious objections. This is the smallest group among the vaccine hesitators.

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Vaccine scepticism occurs when someone does not trust the government or the vaccine distributors. Vaccine scepticists often fear that their government is not acting in their best interest or they fear the vaccine and its side effects or ingredients. This form of vaccine hesitancy often goes hand in hand with misinformation or disinformation. They base their opinions on false information that fits their narrative.

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Misinformation happens when people base their opinions regarding the vaccine on false or incomplete information. The incorrect information makes them believe that they should not get vaccinated. Misinformation occurs a lot through social media. Left wing, liberal media often pushes for people to get vaccinated, but right wing, conservative media pushes their social media consumers in the opposite direction. Many right wing social media sources are against vaccination and to convince their followers, they use incomplete or false information. This is part of the issue of many social media outlets only recommending you information that fits your previous searches, resulting in you getting stuck in a bubble surrounded by only information that you already believe to be true, instead of being objectively true. Misinformation is a big issue for many political issues.

Last but not least, there are also people who refuse to get vaccinated because they simply do not understand the existing published information provided by their government or health organisations. Very often, the information is not posted in layman’s terms, which makes it hard for some people to understand the text. In a way it is similar to churches refusing to translate their bibles from Latin to the common tongue, back in the day.

Vaccine hesitancy is holding herd immunity back by lowering a countries vaccination rate. That is why vaccine hesitancy is a global issue. As long as there is a significant group of people who refuse to get vaccinated, it will hurt everyone.  However, achieving herd immunity is necessary even if a group of people refuses to participate. Slowly but surely, countries around the world are realising that their liberal approach of letting people decide whether they want to take the vaccine or not, might not be working.

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To achieve global herd immunity in the near future we might see a new approach based on realism. This would most likely mean enforcements of vaccine mandates. People are already demonstrating against the violation of their human rights caused by the current Covid-19 measures and this would only get worse if vaccine mandates were enforced on a global scale. Human rights are very important, but so is protecting the common good against a deadly disease and without mandates it might not be possible to achieve herd immunity.

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However, vaccine hesitancy might play a big role as the reason behind a lack of herd immunity in the West, but vaccine equity plays a much, much bigger role on a global scale. Vaccine equity, to put it simply, means that anyone from any place of the world should have equal access to any of the Covid-19 vaccinations to be properly protected from the virus.

Right now, the wealthy countries are getting the majority of all vaccines while the poorer regions of the world are struggling to get any vaccines at all. According to the Global Dashboard for Vaccine Equity, barely 8% of people from low income countries have had their first vaccination, compared to the almost 64% of people from higher income countries. This is ridiculous and should not be happening.

It is morally and ethically wrong to withhold the vaccine from any country or anyone, no matter how wealthy or poor, but besides that it is also the biggest ‘herdle’ to overcome to achieve herd immunity on a global scale. As long as the virus exists anywhere on the world, it will remain a global threat whether a country is vaccinated or not.

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Billions of people are vulnerable to the deadly Covid-19 virus and cannot get vaccinated. As I mentioned earlier when we discussed herd immunity, the virus will not go away even if some countries are vaccinated. The virus will always find its way back into those countries either via international travel, international trade or further globalisation.

However, the bigger threat is the risk of the virus mutating over and over until there is a variant that ignores our antibodies from the vaccines or recovery. This would mean that the world has to start all over again and create a new vaccine to cover this new, dangerous mutation. Then the process of equity would repeat itself again and the world would get stuck in this vicious circle until the issue of vaccine equity is fixed. As long as Covid-19 exists, it has time to mutate and spread across the globe.

From an economic perspective, vaccine equity only worsens inequality around the world and increases the gap between the wealthy and the poor. It will undo years or decades of hard-earned progress on human development.

The current way of handling the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines has not worked. The current way can be referred to as disaster capitalism. Disaster capitalism is a type of predatory capitalism that seeks to profit off of human or natural-made crises.

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If we are to end vaccine equity and, hopefully, the pandemic, something has to change. A more communist, especially Marxist, approach would work better for the distribution of the Covid-19 vaccines. Everyone is equal, no matter where they are from or how rich they are and the distribution of vaccines should reflect this. A Marxist approach would mean that all the Covid-19 vaccines are distributed equally.

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Especially now that most of the Western countries have high vaccination rates, it is important that they share their abundance of Covid-19 vaccines with the poorer regions of the world. After all, the West’s high vaccination rates are of no use if Covid-19 still spreads across their borders from poorer regions of the world, especially not if a new, more dangerous mutation is born among the billions of unvaccinated people.

It is an interesting contrast where the West might need a stricter, harsher and realist approach to solve the issue of vaccine hesitancy while the poor regions require a more fair and liberal approach to achieve vaccine equity.

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To conclude, I want to go back to the beginning of this blog. I answered the question of “Will Covid-19 ever end?” with: Yes, maybe? I believe it will end, eventually. However, it will be a long and difficult road to turning the Covid-19 pandemic into an endemic.

It will not be easy to implement a more communist approach towards the equal distribution of the Covid-19 vaccines, but it is necessary. It will take a lot of cooperation and communication. The longer it takes, the higher the chance of a more dangerous Covid-19 variant being born as well. This could mean that the world will have to endure setbacks on a global scale, which is why things have to change now.

Changing the minds of the misinformed vaccine hesitators in the West, and possibly eventually in the poorer regions of the world as well once vaccine equity has been achieved, will not be easy. People are stuck in their close-minded way of thinking and view opposing opinions as delusional. Enforcing mandates might be the only way to achieve herd immunity for countries with already high vaccination rates.

This just shows how difficult it will be to achieve global herd immunity, but it is necessary nonetheless. We are all in this together and each one of us is as weak as the weakest link. Overcoming this ‘herdle’ is going to depend on cooperation and communication between people, international organisations and countries.

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It reminds me of a book I have read recently, Rutger Bregman’s book “Humankind: A Hopeful History”. The Dutch title translates to: most people are alright. That is why I believe Covid-19 will end eventually, because most people are alright.

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Armed with this knowledge, you should be able to make everyone’s Christmas a little brighter by explaining to them why this pandemic will end. And if you are still looking for a good Christmas gift, I highly recommend Bregman’s book.

I wish you an early merry and Covid-free Christmas.

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Sources
Brockmann, D. (2017, March 6). Public health: This message must be herd. Retrieved on November 14, from https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-017-0065

Data Futures. (n.d.). Global Dashboard for Vaccine Equity. Retrieved on November 25, from https://data.undp.org/vaccine-equity/

Global Citizen. (2021, February 2). What Is Vaccine Equity and Why Is It So Important? Retrieved on November 26, from https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/what-is-vaccine-equity-covid-19/

Kassabov, O. (2021, February 21). What the vaccine debacle tells us about predatory capitalism. Retrieved on November 25, from https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2021/2/21/the-vaccine-debacle-shows-the-predatory-nature-of-capitalism

Machingaidze, S., Shey Wiysonge, C. (2021, July 16). Understanding COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy. Retrieved on November 14, from https://www.nature.com/articles/s41591-021-01459-7

Mayo Clinic. (2021, August 28). Herd immunity and COVID-19 (coronavirus): What you need to know. Retrieved on November 14, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/herd-immunity-and-coronavirus/art-20486808

World Health Organisation. (2020, December 31). Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Herd immunity, lockdowns and COVID-19. Retrieved on November 14, from https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/question-and-answers-hub/q-a-detail/herd-immunity-lockdowns-and-covid-19?gclid=CjwKCAiA1uKMBhAGEiwAxzvX9yuIJJe2Jd-TsQaPMTJad-qcObGZaI77zoVfIAwc9qNlSnXYwj3jNhoC-BgQAvD_BwE

 

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