Is the pandemic ever coming to an end?

By Aidan Crowley

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the Covid-19 pandemic will likely drag on into 2022 and could last even longer

Image via Jernej Furmen, Flickr

The World Health Organization (WHO) has recently warned that the Covid-19 pandemic will most likely drag on into next year, due to the lack of vaccinations across the world, particularly in poorer countries. Dr. Bruce Awlward, a senior leader at the WHO said: “I can tell you that we are not on track. We really need to speed it up, or you know what? This pandemic is going to go on for a year longer than it needs to.” 

The biggest headache for the WHO, is that a huge problem has arisen around the uneven distribution of vaccines around the world. In addition, the low rate of vaccinations in low-income countries as opposed to high-income countries, is setting alarm bells ringing at world health headquarters. High income countries like Ireland and the UK are ideally supposed to be donating to poorer states and have pledged a total of Euros 100 million, but have, so far, delivered only Euros 10 million.

Emerging from the pandemic, is not only vital for people’s general health and well-being, but also, to the economy and those sectors that were hard-hit when restrictions to curb the spread of the virus were originally introduced. One of the main reasons that the pandemic is still ongoing, is that less economically developed countries with high populations, are lagging behind in the rolling-out of their vaccine programs. Some experts argue that without mass vaccinations across the globe, the virus will mutate to the point where the original vaccinations become obsolete, although this is typically difficult to predict. 

The “covax pool” was meant to counter-act this scenario and ensure that any countries who could not afford the vaccines, still had access to them, through subsidized costs. However, some countries like the UK and Canada have used the pool to acquire their own vaccines, despite having their own contacts with major pharmaceutical companies. One stark statistic outlines the scale of the vaccination roll-out inequality – under 3% of the entire population of Africa has been fully vaccinated.

In recent months, many observers in both Ireland and the UK have promulgated that the pandemic might be coming to an end. Bars, restaurants and cafes have re-opened with the vaccination program almost complete. Nights out and recreational activities have felt like pre-pandemic times. More than 92% of Ireland’s adult population has been fully vaccinated, while 93% of the population over age 16, have received at least one dose. But with cases now on the rise again (4,607 new cases confirmed, 579 people in hospital and 115 in ICU), the problem at home has risen to the point where some health experts are advising that the government re-impose some of the restrictions that we experienced earlier in the year.

Covid-19 cases have the potential to overwhelm the HSE and so prevent patients with other medical conditions receiving the care that they need. With the emergence of the very recent Omicron variant of the virus, the overall picture has become far more complex. The Irish government could be forced into its contingency plan for winter that would re-introduce some measures, such as social distancing, mask-wearing and asking people to work from home. The re-enforcing of Covid passports in a number of hospitality settings is also, very much, on the cards. It would be a major setback for many businesses, recovering from the pandemic, particularly those most impacted, such as the hospitality and air travel sectors.

Mike Ryan, a director of the WHO, has warned that this pandemic has the potential to overwhelm health systems throughout the world. “It is a tragedy. We still have doctors and nurses in frontline situations in low-income countries, who are not protected against Covid-19.” Speaking as part of a virtual conversation with Professor Michael Kerin, chair of surgery at NUIG, he was very critical of the uneven distribution of vaccines between developed and developing countries. “What we need to be able to do is not run our health system like a low-cost airline, at 120% occupancy, which we effectively do in many countries. I think that every country, including Ireland, is going to take a hard look at that scenario,” he added.

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