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We need a Marshall Plan for the COVID-19 vaccine

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Vaccinations are nicely far along in Israel, the US, UK, and now Canada, and the situation in much of Europe is improving. But vaccination rates for most of the world are extremely low, which raises the terrifying possibility that more people could die of the disease after the discovery of the vaccine than before:

If world leaders don’t act now, the end of the Covid pandemic may come with a horrible form of herd immunity, as more transmissible variants that are taking hold around the world kill millions.

There’s troubling new evidence that the B.1.617.2 variant, first identified in India, could be far more transmissible than even the B.1.1.7 variant, first identified in Britain, which contributed to some of the deadliest surges around the world.

In countries with widespread vaccination, like the United States and Britain, we can expect that Covid cases, hospitalizations and deaths will continue to decline or stay low, especially because lab tests and real world experience show that vaccines appear to defend recipients well against the severe effects of both variants.

For much of the rest of the world, though, this even more transmissible new variant could be catastrophic.

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A variant with higher transmissibility is a huge danger to people without immunity either from vaccination or prior infection, even if the variant is no more deadly than previous versions of the virus. Residents of countries like Taiwan or Vietnam that had almost completely kept out the pandemic, and countries like India and Nepal that had fared relatively well until recently, have fairly little immunity, and are largely unvaccinated. A more transmissible variant can burn through such an immunologically naïve population very fast.

It’s going to take a huge infusion of resources to prevent a lot of catastrophes. Whether the political will is going to be there, we’ll have to see.

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