Scepticism about the Covid vaccines, and unwillingness to take them, is vastly higher in the United States than it is in Ireland. So, you’d think, wouldn’t you, that those in power would be using every carrot available to try to entice the recalcitrant into getting their immunity jab so that we can all forget this living nightmare and go back to life as normal.
Instead, though, America’s top Covid boffin is, to be generous, sending mixed signals:
Dr. Fauci says that it's "possible" that Americans will be wearing masks in 2022.
"When it goes way down and the overwhelming majority of the people in the population are vaccinated, then I would feel comfortable in saying, you know, 'We need to pull back on the masks'" #CNNSOTU pic.twitter.com/Pyry7HlqnR
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) February 21, 2021
The theory behind what he’s saying is, to be fair, straightforward enough: The vaccines, thus far, at least, prevent hospitalisation and serious infection. They don’t seem to prevent every infection, and they certainly don’t work at a perfect 100% rate. For as long as there are a significant percentage of unvaccinated people in the community, it makes sense for the vaccinated to keep wearing their masks. Masks, recall, are supposed to protect other people from what you’re breathing out, not protect you from what others are breathing out.
The problem, though, is this: If you’re mildly sceptical of the covid vaccine, then what, exactly, is the incentive to get it if…… basically nothing changes?
In Israel, the world’s most successful country in terms of vaccinations, they’re pulling out all the stops to persuade people to get the vaccine, employing both the carrot, and well, the stick:
“Israel lifted restrictions on most commerce and public activity, opening malls, markets and museums—and requiring the use of a pass to document vaccination status for some activities…
The opening up and use of what officials are calling green passports, which allow people to enter gyms and hotels and eventually embark on quarantine-free travel, set up a test for one of the most closely watched countries during the pandemic: Can Israel return to relative normalcy without slipping back into peak infection rates and overwhelming its healthcare system?
To strike that balance, officials are warning those who shun the national vaccination campaign that they will be shut out of everyday activities. “Anyone who does not get vaccinated will be left behind,” Israel’s health minister Yuli Edelstein said.
As thousands of people rushed to download the “green passport” documents, the website crashed Saturday night. The Health Ministry said people could use their vaccination certificates in the meantime.”
There are, to put it mildly, civil liberties concerns about making a person’s freedom conditional on receiving an injection, and that’s not a road that Ireland should go down. But nor should we be going down this dopey American road of “oh, take your time to get vaccinated, we’ll just keep restrictions up until 2022”. The public desperately needs good news, and a pathway back to normalcy. If the vaccine cannot provide such a pathway, then its next to useless. We may as well just go the Zero Covid road, in that case, and close the borders semi-permanently. We’d be trapped on the island indefinitely, but at least we’d have some kind of life.
In any case, Ireland shouldn’t have the kinds of problems that the Israelis seem to be seeking to address with their mandatory vaccine policy. According to the most recent polling, eight in ten Irish people are eager to get their vaccination. This kind of measure simply shouldn’t be necessary.
But what, then, of the die-hards? The people who simply won’t take a vaccine for Covid under any circumstances. Well, if you’re one of them, the good news is that there are simply so few of you that you shouldn’t really make a big difference: For one thing, the venn diagram of people who won’t take a vaccine, and people who don’t believe Covid is a big risk to begin with, is not perfectly circular, but its close. Many of them will either have had covid already, and picked up immunity that way, or they’ll get it before this thing is over. A vaccination, after all, is just a substitute for natural immunity. A lot of people who don’t want the vaccine will have the effects of the vaccine anyway.
For another thing, the unvaccinated should pose a relatively low risk to the vaccinated: The risk that’s usually cited, in these conversations, is that by allowing the virus to circulate, the unvaccinated increase the risk of new variants, and a second pandemic. But since the evidence is that the vaccine mainly reduces the seriousness of the virus, rather than eliminating it, that risk is also going to continue to be present in the vaccinated. The risk of a new strain is a constant one, vaccine or no vaccine.
But the bottom line is this: There’s no reason, none, to think it acceptable that we might still be wearing masks, and observing other restrictions, in 2022. Politicians and Governments have almost a full year to vaccinate people, and get us back to normal. Anything else would be a massive failure.