Don’t say, “When it’s over…”

This pandemic isn’t something that just ends. We need to wrestle with the nature of the journey in order to prepare ourselves for the path to a way out.

  • Essential consideration #1: vaccine availability
  • Essential consideration #2: vaccine production and distribution
  • Essential consideration #3: vaccine skepticism
  • Essential consideration #4: durability of immunity
  • Essential consideration #5: reservoirs of the virus

Essential consideration #1: vaccine availability

You know this one, right? You’ve heard all about it. Yeah yeah, Trump is crazy when he says a vaccine will be out by the November election, but then…it can’t be far behind, can it?

Essential consideration #2: vaccine production and distribution

Once a vaccine is established to be safe and effective, we need to make a ton of it. Specifically, in the United States, reaching the 70% vaccination threshold — that epidemiologists generally consider the standard for herd immunity that represents broad protection and arrests additional transmission — will require roughly 230 million doses.

Essential consideration #3: vaccine skepticism

The foregoing section is a litany of potential small and medium-sized problems with getting safe and effective vaccines into the requisite number of bodies. But what about the emerging issue of the brains, attached to those bodies, that want nothing to do with a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine?

Essential consideration #4: durability of immunity

Now consider the science of the virus and of the disease it causes, specifically what it means to have tools to resist the disease. You can acquire those tools of resistance by getting a disease in a way that it leaves you with antibodies, or by getting vaccinated. Often these two cases (vastly simplified here) are treated as equal. Before considering how they aren’t, let’s talk about their variations.

Essential consideration #5: reservoirs of the virus

Our final consideration: the cat is out of the bag, virally speaking. There is now so much virus out there that we simply can’t test, trace, and treat our way to eradication.

Final thoughts on the long slog ahead

Now of course, I could be wrong. We may, after all, pull out a World War II-level effort here, producing vaccines and getting them distributed, and then dropping our skepticism to participate fully as a society in the effort. And they may after all provide durable herd immunity, extinguishing the virus with ruthless efficiency in one place after another. Maybe the way out is a smooth and speedy path.

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Joshua Skov

All in on sustainability and climate action. Consultant at WSP USA. Instructor in the University of Oregon’s Center for Sustainable Business Practices.