The fourth wave of ongoing infections worldwide, mainly with the Delta variant, has caused many people to question the success of vaccination campaigns.
However, the reality is that everything is going as planned.
What are vaccines for?
I think a lot of people misunderstood the role that vaccines would play in ending the pandemic, somehow, destroying the virus.
In the early days, there was hope that, by immunizing millions of people, it would stop the spread of the disease.
However, this was far from the warning of certain medical experts and vaccine manufacturers that, although vaccines produce a strong immune response, there is no guarantee that it will prevent the circulation of the virus.
Today we know that they have not done so, even if it is possible that they have reduced it. Logically speaking, the less severe the symptoms, the shorter their duration and the lower the risk of releasing more viral material by coughing, talking, or sneezing.
But the goal of the vaccines was, first and foremost, to save lives.
By increasing our immune response to the virus, training the body to fight it by equipping it with the necessary antibodies, vaccines were supposed to reduce hospitalizations for serious infections and the resulting deaths.
And we know that in this aspect they have had a very good performance.
Although COVID-19 is still spreading, its toll does not resemble what it was last year.
Let’s take a look at the UK. Although it was one of the first major countries to vaccinate a large proportion of its population and reduced the daily count of cases in the spring, it was also one of the first to witness a subsequent rebound, which reached almost the same levels. daily reports of infections during the worst winter outbreak.
In January, the wave reached its peak amid sharp closures, with about 60,000 cases and 1,200 deaths a day (a daily average of seven days).
The most recent increase in July reached almost 50,000 cases daily, but only 88 deaths a few weeks later (deaths usually track detected cases around a month). This is a tenfold improvement in six months.
Looking at other highly vaccinated countries, we see similar results (with some variations, depending on the number of people who have been shot, how many cases have been detected, etc.).
In Spain, the winter peak reached 29,000 cases per day in mid-January, followed by the maximum number of victims, and reached an average of 490 deaths per day in mid-February.
The summer wave surpassed 27,000 cases in mid-July, but as we are now in mid-August, the daily death toll reached 70, an improvement of seven times.
Countries that are only in the middle of the last rise report an improvement of two to five times compared to comparable periods last year, and the gap is likely to widen when infection figures end.
All of this is happening with a much more transmissible variant, approximately two to three times more infectious than the original strain of the virus, in much less restrictive conditions this year (no blockages, relaxed masking rules).
Maybe the virus is weaker?
At this point, you can question the severity of the most recent strain. Maybe it’s not the vaccines that protect us, but the fact that COVID-19 became a less deadly virus?
To see why this might not be the case, we need to look at countries where vaccination rates are relatively low and are struggling with their first really serious waves, as they have been largely saved by 2020.
Although it is difficult to compare 1: 1 figures between different countries (since the capacity for information and evidence is different, as well as the average age, comorbidities in society and other risk factors), it is clear that in places like Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand or In India, an increase in infections was followed by an increase in deaths.
Overflowing hospitals, patients lying on the ground, deaths of doctors and nurses (the same images of terror we witnessed in the West last year) are discovered from other parts of the world, where vaccines remain scarce.
Whether Delta is statistically more deadly or not, it is clear that it is still extremely serious and can still overload entire national health systems as previous variants did.
The fact that we do not see the recurrence of disasters in devastated places in 2020 can only be attributed to vaccines.
The more people get the blows, the fewer serious cases will occur and the virus itself can be reduced to a relatively mild form of cold. However, we may still need booster shots to keep our immunity high each year.
Still, it’s a small price to pay for peace of mind and a return to pre-pandemic normalcy, even if we are forced to live with COVID-19 circulating around the world for many years.
What does it mean for Singapore?
While other countries may struggle with COVID skeptics, people who think the virus does not exist or are not a major problem, in Singapore, the biggest source of hesitation in the vaccine is in part the success and scope of the vaccination campaign.
The city-state is one of the most vaccinated countries in the world and the effectiveness of vaccines can, paradoxically, convince many not to get the shot, as it is likely that everyone has gotten one.
We’ve seen it particularly among the elderly, who think it’s either not worth getting vaccinated or that they don’t have too much left. This is very dangerous for everyone.
At present, it seems that the evasive immunity of the herd, ie the point at which a sufficiently large proportion of the population is resistant to the virus, decreases its spread and eliminates it as a threat, may be beyond our capabilities.
While the protection provided by vaccines may still be high against the Delta variant, it may not be high enough to provide effective immunity to the herd. In other words, those who expected to flee without getting stung when 70% of the others received their shots should now stand in line and cover themselves as well.
Otherwise, they can not only cope with the consequences of a serious COVID-19 infection, but they can pass it on to others or even serve as a repository for future mutations in the virus, further preventing vaccines.
We may not be able to eradicate COVID, but thanks to vaccines we can live with it.
Fortunately, Singapore doesn’t have too many stubborn skeptics to deal with, but these few retarded ones no longer have good excuses, especially because the country is eager to finally open up to the world and resume normal economic activity.
It is almost certain that this will lead to many more imported cases, which may force it to re-block the border if a sufficiently large group of Singaporeans is not yet vaccinated and cause another major outbreak.
Vaccination protects your life and everyone’s vaccination protects everyone’s livelihood.
Featured Image Credit: Singapore National Eye Center / Singapore Eye Research Institute