In a poll of experts taken by Nature earlier this year, only 6% said it was “unlikely” or “very unlikely” that SARS-CoV-2 will become endemic. By contrast, 89% said this was “likely” or “very likely”.
As Professor Francois Balloux has observed: “Eventually, Covid will become endemic everywhere in the world… claims about indefinite elimination are just empty slogans.”
This means the virus will continue to circulate for the foreseeable future, and most of us will catch it several times during our lives. In fact, it may become one that we first encounter in childhood, leading to immunity that lasts years or decades.
Covid, in other words, is here to stay. And unless more powerful vaccines are developed in the future, permanently suppressing transmission via vaccination is unlikely to work, let alone pass a cost-benefit test.
As the Great Barrington Declaration authors have argued, vaccines are best seen as a means of achieving focused protection against Covid. By vaccinating the elderly and clinically vulnerable, we have turned what – for many of those people – could have been a life-threatening illness, into something much less harmful.
However, since the start of the vaccine rollout, numerous people – including some world leaders – have taken a rather different view of the vaccines. For these individuals, the vaccines are a way of ‘crushing the curve’, and thereby ensuring that nobody ever has to get Covid.
But this view is based more on safetyism than on science. And ironically, it’s causing real harm. How so?
First, safetyism has led to the belief that everyone needs to get vaccinated, regardless of age. This is why the Government is proceeding with vaccination of 12-15 year olds, against the better judgement of its own expert panel. Yet as I and others have argued, a far better course of action would be donating those vaccines to poor countries.
Second, safetyism has led to the belief that everyone needs to get vaccinated, even if they’ve already been infected. Yet evidence suggests that people with natural immunity have better protection against infection than recipients of the Pfizer vaccine.
As Professor Marty Makary notes in a recent article for the Washington Post: “If we had asked Americans who were already protected by natural immunity to step aside in the vaccine line, tens of thousands of lives could have been saved.”
Third, safetyism has led to the belief that we need to roll out booster shots because vaccine-induced immunity wanes rapidly. So far, however, this is only true of immunity against infection; immunity against severe disease appears to hold up well.
In a recent Lancet article, Philip Krause and colleagues argue there is not yet any need for boosters, which could cause adverse reactions if administered too soon or too frequently. They point out that vaccines “will save the most lives if made available to people who are at appreciable risk of serious disease and have not yet received any vaccine”.
Fourth, safetyism has led to the belief that people should be strong-armed into getting vaccinated by means of passports and mandates, rather than persuaded. Although coercive measures may increase vaccine uptake, they risk undermining trust in government and the healthcare system.
What’s more, vaccine passports could have unintended consequences. If vulnerable people are led to believe – wrongly – that the vaccines have strong efficacy against infection, they might take more risks than they otherwise would.
A vaccine roll-out based on science – not safetyism – would have recognised that not everyone needs to be vaccinated. It would have assigned leftover vaccines to people that actually need them. And it would have eschewed coercive measures, in favour of transparency about the risks and benefits.