It seemed little more than a dream back in the summer, but finally, the vaccines are here. And while we all wonder when our turn to be vaccinated will come, we can watch media coverage of campaigns already underway around the world — along with fake news about nurses suffering catastrophic allergic reactions after receiving their jab.
That said, I see insufficient planning and a failure to fully explore technology’s potential to solve many of the problems associated with the rollout. The Covid-19 vaccine is a milestone and a huge advance in medical science, but the negativity and doubt being spread by some is very irresponsible: there have been absurd and ignorant suggestions that in reality we will be injected with some sort of not yet developed nanochip, while others have raised concerns about individual liberties: exactly the kind of stupidity that has brought back diseases that had been almost eradicated.
Who should receive the vaccine first? The different approaches being adopted by governments around the world once again highlight politicians’ inability to apply a common and scientifically based strategy, preferring instead to be guided by electoral criteria. Instead, they should be led by epidemiology, with all countries taking the same approach. Once again, borders prevent the kind of coordinated, global response we really need as a species. All that seems to be happening is that countries are waiting for the vaccines to arrive, and then rushing to deliver them as quickly as possible, without any planning or much idea about the next step.
Going one step further, what is the best policy toward people who refuse to be vaccinated? Should organizations be able to fire or suspend employees who say they prefer to wait or who just say no? What if that employee deals directly with the public? And similarly, should certain sectors be entitled to refuse service to customers who cannot prove they have been vaccinated? As things stand, we know very little about how long immunity lasts and whether or not somebody who has been vaccinated can develop and transmit the disease asymptomatically. In short, for the time being we should continue to wear a mask and maintain social distancing even if we have been vaccinated.
Will we need a certificate from now on to show we’ve been vaccinated? So far we haven’t had to provide such evidence on a daily basis, but it’s not such a strange idea: schools usually require parents to provide a vaccination certificate for new pupils, many countries ask for a proof of vaccination against certain endemic diseases, and right now, most countries require proof of a negative Covid-19 test before they’ll let you in. In response, there’s already a flourishing black market in fake test results: are we going to allow this to continue, or will we develop some kind of blockchain system to try to prevent it?
Verifying who is vaccinated and who is not, or how to ensure that whoever received their first dose also receives the second (at the moment, all the vaccines available require two doses, up to three weeks apart) will mean creating apps, secure and reliable databases, scannable codes, authenticated and unbreakable record keeping, and above all, immediate communication between different systems at different levels and across different countries. Many countries run the risk of repeating the fiasco from earlier in the year with traceability apps. Equally, we haven’t even been able to count the dead properly, so when it comes to the living, let’s try to do better.
Rolling out a vast vaccination program without knowing who has received their jab would make the whole process pretty much redundant. In short, if being vaccinated is going to be the key to returning to normal life… how are we going to monitor it? Are we going to require paper documents with a signature and a stamp, which are easy to forge, to be looked at in a few seconds at the entrance to a cinema or when passing through customs at an airport? Surely not. We failed to make the most of technology’s potential in the early stages of the pandemic, so let’s at least try to get it right this time and avoid mistakes that could delay a recovery.
Let’s see if this time around, our leaders can get it right.