Let me allow you a glimpse behind the curtain. The main topic of conversation over the past week in our (still virtual) office has been the light on the front cover. I’ve been trying to convince our art director to make it smaller; he has informed me that, in design terms, it is as small as it can go.
All that is to say that, yes, the Covid-19 vaccination programme is providing some kind of light, but at the moment it could fit on a pinhead.
This is not to belittle everyone’s efforts so far. I’ve been awestruck by how far we have come. The fact that the vaccine programme has been led by GPs is not coincidental – give GPs and the wider NHS the tools, and they will achieve great things.
It seems vaccinations are our main route back to ‘normality’, whatever that will be. Treatments will help individuals, but will have little effect on population health. And, as enticing a dream as a ‘zero Covid’ strategy was, even the Prime Minister has admitted that we will have to learn to live with the virus (a refreshing dose of realism from him). So, it is all on the vaccines.
But, as the experts in our cover feature make clear, there is still a huge number of variables. How effective will the vaccines be against transmission? Will younger cohorts retain the same level of uptake as the priority groups? And, most importantly, will the vaccines be able to win the ‘arms race’ against future mutations, as Dr Peter English puts it?
The truth is, although the early signs are positive, at this point we don’t know. The Government has, in its defence, emphasised that it will continue to monitor the efficacy of the vaccination programme as one of its four tests and, as such, will only ease lockdown when the data show progress. As the new mantra goes, ‘data not dates’.
But the problem remains that – despite the aforementioned dose of realism – Boris Johnson simply can’t help himself. Just as with his announcements that it would take 12 weeks to overcome the virus, and then that we would all be able to have a proper Christmas, he now throws ’21 June’ into the mix – which sounds suspiciously like a ‘date’ and not ‘data’ to me.
Any caveats, including the four tests, are likely to be lost on a population desperate for good news. Editing this month’s cover feature amid the feeling of celebration has left me feeling like the ultimate party pooper.
GPs know the light is still some way in the distance and can be snuffed out pretty easily, whether that is through the virus winning the arms race, or through the country becoming complacent. And, if anything sets us back, they will be the ones explaining to patients why their vaccine is not as protective as they may have hoped, in the same way as they are the ones now countering the myths leading to vaccine hesitancy.
I realise this is a negative way of looking at things. But we can’t rely on our political leaders to be truthful about the potential success of the vaccines, so my fear remains that we are destined to go through the same cycles of hope and crushing disappointment.
Let’s hope that the light gets a bit bigger.
Jaimie Kaffash is editor of Pulse. Follow him on Twitter @jkaffash or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.