Ignore Pessimism: COVID-19 Vaccines Quietly Prevail

It is quite likely that if you read the news you will have the feeling that the pandemic will never end. In fact, even in the fall, when good news about the advancement of vaccines began to arrive, this negative narrative managed to gain traction.

In the last month, they have been able to read articles on the “five reasons why herd immunity is probably impossible”, even though mass vaccination was already underway, or breathtaking information about yet unidentified but potentially devastating variants, like the “double mutant” variant in India, or two worrisome variants that potentially swap mutations and come together in a “nightmare scenario” in California. Prepare, some analysts said, for the “permanent pandemic.”

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Among many of my acquaintances, a kind of low-intensity catastrophism has set in. They think that vaccines are a mere silver lining that will only slow down the virus for a short period of time before being defeated by an avalanche of increasingly elusive new variants of the virus that will spread around us, perhaps forever. . They believe that things could improve briefly, but only a little, and even that is tenuous. In the best of cases, and not always, they have the feeling that things can improve, but only a little.

However, despite this catastrophic state of mind and the difficulties that are likely to arise throughout the vaccination process, I am still optimistic. Since the middle of last year I have been convinced that we will be able to end this pandemic with extremely effective vaccines.

These vaccines will be able to stop the disease, to the point of almost extinction. Or they will limit their strength and contagion so much that COVID will become a much easier to manage concern, like measles or mumps. In fact, I think we are very close to getting it, as long as we get everyone, not just rich countries, to get vaccinated.

The scientific arguments that invite us to be optimistic are very clear. The vaccines we have are beyond excellent; in fact, they are among the most effective ever created. They appear to be effective in everyday situations, and the results so far show that the protection is long-lasting. A crucial piece of information is that the new results obtained in the USA show that mRNA vaccines used there effectively prevent coronavirus infections – and not just severe symptoms – with results similar to those previously reported by a study carried out in the UK.

And another study made in UK indicates that vaccinated groups were less likely to spread coronavirus infection overall. This is exactly what we need to end the pandemic: vaccines that not only protect, but actually prevent the virus from infecting people and spreading.

As for the new variants of the virus, it is clear that some are more infectious and others more deadly. But its interaction with vaccines is not yet clear. Some laboratory results show that certain viral mutations can make some immune responses less strong. And one study suggests that the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine might be less effective against the South African variant.

But most scientists believe that vaccines have held out so far, and will continue to do so. If the variants manage to make small advances, the vaccines can be upgraded. Although a fatal scenario with a lethal strain cannot be ruled out, the truth is that it cannot be predicted. Evolution doesn’t do miracles on demand for viral supremacy. The truth is that most viruses fail to evade the protection of vaccines even if they mutate for decades.

Reports pointing to a bleak and dangerous future are not wrong, in themselves. It is clear that we have a long way to go in the fight against the pandemic. Although some articles are sensational – in fact some scientists have begun to call the panic reactions that occur with each new mutation of the virus as “mutant porn” – most articles echo with the best of the intentions of the virus. opinion of the experts, or they try to distance themselves from a discourse that feeds false hopes – most of the articles – or, exceptionally, they distance themselves from catastrophic and terrible projections (this column).

In general, they attempt to describe, in a context of enormous uncertainty, the prospects for the future. As a general rule, we are quite bad at managing uncertainty. During the pandemic, the public sphere sometimes appears to be in the midst of a full-blown epistemic crisis, with vastly different claims about what “science” portends. The truth is that the science we see now is itself uncertain. We are not facing a process that starts from studies that have been carried out for many years and that allow us to have almost infallible answers.

We all move behind the scientific curtain, looking at evolving science, inferences and hypotheses, incomplete and ongoing studies. Often times, what is publicly presented as “science” is nothing more than conjecture, grounded in knowledge, from experts.

This situation can have a cumulative effect and lead to something paralyzing. Especially since the pandemic itself has expanded our horizon of negative possibilities. It seems that every day there are a thousand new paths that the future can take, and there is no way of knowing the strength of each of them. Furthermore, as each good news is accompanied by new warnings and catastrophic scenarios, it may seem that the situation is almost as uncertain now as it was at the beginning of the crisis. As if everything we know could suddenly and radically change, in the same way it did last March.

However, the reality is very different. We are faced with two huge and opposite fronts of uncertainty. We still don’t know for sure whether vaccines will effectively stop transmission. We have some signs pointing to it, and conclusive answers are coming in. And we don’t know what (terrible) variants might emerge yet. Although this unknown seems enormous, the variants are not an immunological antimatter called to suddenly and totally end vaccines.

Seen like this, the possibilities don’t seem so daunting. At the beginning of the pandemic we had nothing, the deadline for vaccines and if they would work were uncertain, there was a possibility that they would take years, or that they would fail. The horizon was the virus, and how bad it could be. Now vaccines are the horizon, and it is the virus that only has the possibility of delaying or interrupting our path.

Translated by Emma Reverter

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