This article comes with all the usual and hopefully obvious caveats and disclaimers. I’m not a doctor, epidemiologist or anything medical. So, these are the musings of an ordinary citizen and arm chair critic. However, sometimes it takes the ordinary citizen, the amateur if you like to raise observations that might get missed. That’s why in the end it is our political leaders and not the scientists who make final decisions acting on the expert advice.
We have seen hopes raised and then dashed again. First of all we were warned that finding a vaccine might take years or never happen. Then we heard about rapid progress in development. Then we were warned that vaccines might take longer to get through clinical trials and still might not succeed. Then the promise of a vaccine by the end of the year was offered up. Now, we are again being warned that full roll out of a vaccine might take two years.
Two more years? Two more years of only being able to have 10 people at a time at church, of not being able to sing, of having to wear these wretched face masks, of not being able to give grandma a hug? That is quite crushing isn’t it.
Well here are a couple of thoughts on why this might not be doom and gloom. There are two reasons for sharing them. The first is that if we think the light of hope is going out, it makes it harder for us to persist with the measures taken. The second is that no doubt pressure will be placed on the drugs companies and NHS to speed up the roll out and make mistakes.
So, first of all, whilst a full roll out to the whole population may be a few years away and this might be necessary for the full eradication of the virus, this does not necessarily mean it is needed to bring the virus down to controllable levels. We don’t vaccinate everyone against flu viruses. We focus on the vulnerable and the elderly. Our priority at this stage with a vaccine should be the same people and the front line workers that engage with them.
Secondly, we are at least seeing other measures come into play. We finally have a contact tracing app. If this is widely taken up, it will help identify people who have been infected with COVID-19 to isolate and to notify those they have been in contact with.
Thirdly, one of the reasons for vulnerability is that the patient suffers from other medical conditions. It may be that our best hope is not better knowledge of the virus but better knowledge of these conditions. Indeed, the virus may be helping researchers to understand respiratory issues, diabetes and kidney problems better. It may be that we find ways to better treat those conditions so that the patient is less vulnerable to COVID-19.
Fourthly, linked to the implementation of Contact tracing. It may be that the earlier identification of the illness and a timely response with treatment may improve the ability of patients to avoid becoming seriously ill and survive the illness.
Fifthly, there may be alternative treatments available to vaccines which reduce the impact of the virus, anti-virals for example that reduce symptoms and other drugs that act as an early response and reduce impact. I must admit I’m suspicious of the claims on those early response drugs to be able to deal with the common cold by locking the virus in the back of your nostrils. However, I know people who swear by them and I did try one the other year to ward of a cold. Of course, we could be just seeing examples of a psychosomatic effect. However, I was intrigued to see the other day that pharmaceuticals have been experimenting with such a nasal spray, apparently with some success.
It is possible that through a mix of such measures that we can reduce the risk of COVID-19 enough to move to a greater level of normality. Let’s hope so!