Countries like India, where there was a lack of oxygen for ventilators, among other things, need support
Photo: Xavier Galiana / AFP / Getty Images
When Covid-19 began to spread rapidly in January last year, governments around the world had limited resources to respond. Without a vaccine or reliable treatment, not even the possibility of mass testing, politicians could only choose the least bad option.
At the start of the pandemic, governments went roughly four different ways. China, New Zealand, Vietnam and Thailand tried to keep the virus out of the country. The price for this was the stopped international travel. Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea suppressed the virus through rigorous testing, tracing and isolation while avoiding harsh lockdowns. Sweden let the virus spread through the population until the country discovered that the health system could not cope with the number of Covid-19 patients. Meanwhile, many European countries - including England and France - controlled Corona through a series of lockdown measures while keeping borders largely open. It was like having an airplane on hold, slowly running out of fuel: people grew tired of the constant restrictions, the economy suffered, and Covid-19 was never completely suppressed.
Before there were vaccines, that was most effective of these strategies the elimination or the "zero covid" approach pursued by countries such as New Zealand, Taiwan and China. But in the past 15 months the tools we have have changed radically. We now have safe and effective vaccines, treatments, and mass testing that are allowing governments to rethink their original strategies and come up with a more sustainable plan for the future.
Covid-19 skidded governments around the world because it caused large numbers of deaths, weighed on health services and put at risk of long-term symptoms in younger people. Without lockdown measures, the virus could spread exponentially and find endless hosts to skip over while fear of the virus changed people's behavior, damaging the economy. With the help of vaccines, these three problems can be addressed. With governments able to vaccinate 80 to 90 percent of their populations, Covid-19 will increasingly become a manageable health problem, much like other vaccine-preventable diseases, be it measles or whooping cough.
Well on the way out of the crisis
We know vaccines go a long way towards reducing hospital admissions and deaths. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found outthat older people vaccinated with mRNA vaccines such as Biontech-Pfizer and Moderna were 94 percent less likely to be hospitalized than unvaccinated peers. A study in Scotland foundthat after the fourth week of an initial dose of Biontech-Pfizer and AstraZeneca, the risk was reduced by up to 85 and 94 percent, respectively. Initial research by Yale University also indicates thisthat vaccines can help with Long Covid. After all, 30 to 40 percent of those affected by long-term symptoms who were vaccinated reported an improvement.
If vaccines actually prevent people from dying or becoming seriously ill, then the end of the pandemic is in sight for countries with high vaccination rates, many tests and treatment options. A recent study of health workers in Scotland, for which a scientific assessment is still pending, also indicates that vaccines can also prevent transmission.
Israel has rushed ahead with its vaccination program, the US and Great Britain are not far behind. The European Union is also well on its way, and East Asia and the Pacific are likely to join next. Once the populations of these regions are protected by immunity, they can begin to open up to the world again and carefully and deliberately lift their border restrictions.
In these countries, infection numbers will become less relevant as the links between cases, hospital admissions and deaths are broadly broken. That has always been the goal of the scientists working on treatments and vaccines: inside - and science has succeeded. However, there remain two areas of considerable uncertainty. First, a variant of the virus could emerge that makes vaccines less effective against death and serious illness. In addition, there remains the ongoing challenge of how to deal with children and adolescents, most of whom will be unvaccinated and vulnerable. It seems likely that children under 16 will also be vaccinated. The USA has already approved the Biontech vaccine for the 12 to 15 year old age group. The EU Medicines Agency also recommends it.
Rich countries have to help
So when can the pandemic be expected to end? Covid-19 won't end in one fell swoop or with a pageant. Throughout history, pandemics came to an end when the disease ceased to dominate daily life and faded into the background like other health problems. Unless a dangerous new variant emerges, rich countries could achieve what their citizens consider to be the end of the pandemic in months, if not weeks.
This is not the case in poorer countries in Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia. Wherever vaccines, necessary technology and treatment for Covid-19 cannot be afforded, the population remains trapped by outbreaks that wreak havoc in hospitals and kill healthcare workers and the vulnerable and the elderly. It is now up to the richer countrieswho are recovering from the pandemic, turn to poorer nations and ensure they receive much-needed resources. Only when Covid-19 stops affecting life and livelihoods in all regions of the world can the pandemic really be called the end.