Covid vaccine. Photo: Jernej Furman / Flickr / CC BY 2.0, license linked at bottom of article Covid vaccine. Photo: Jernej Furman / Flickr / CC BY 2.0, license linked at bottom of article

We need to stop the transmission of the virus now to prevent more deaths before a vaccine is ready, argues Caitlin Southern

The news that a 90% effective Covid-19 vaccine is in the late stages of development has been largely met with cautious optimism, and it is an important step forward in the fight to prevent the virus becoming endemic in the population and causing yet more preventable deaths. It should not however be used as an excuse to avoid pursuing a zero Covid strategy.

The government must commit to creating and maintaining a serious lockdown, providing the support that people need to live, in order to suppress the transmission rate to not only reduce the number of deaths while we wait for the vaccine to finish development but also to allow for any delays to development and distribution.

The UK government has so far ordered enough of the touted Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to inoculate 20 million people, should the vaccine be approved for distribution, which is less than a third of the population. Without a commitment to securing further supplies, this will not be sufficient to protect enough people to suppress the virus to a meaningful extent and will only moderately delay the recurrence of mass infections.

Currently, it seems that when an effective vaccine is rolled out it will be frontline workers and the elderly who are prioritised, with children not being vaccinated at all unless, presumably, their parents can afford to pay for it. While it is of critical importance that highly vulnerable people and those in regular close contact with them are vaccinated immediately we cannot have a situation where this protection is artificially rationed as this reinforces the idea that some lives are worth more than others, an idea that seems to be at the heart of Tory policy.

We must not allow the government to use the publicity announcement that a vaccine is on the way as an excuse to roll back on Covid suppression measures and force people into life-threatening situations now on the promise of a vaccine at some point in the future. We need to keep the pressure on them to instigate a full lockdown now, which includes closing schools, universities and all non-essential workplaces.

Their callous insistence on a push back to the artificial normality that benefitted them but not the majority of the population must be challenged rather than allowed to become an accepted narrative. It allows them to shift the blame on to people who cannot afford to stay off work instead of holding themselves culpable for the damage they have caused.

This government has an established record of refusing to take responsibility for its actions, encouraging people to be self-reliant while actively pursuing ever more constrictive measures that prevent them from following that advice. Without vigorously pursuing a zero Covid strategy with full support for a properly functioning test, trace, isolate and treatment system the vaccine, whenever it arrives, will not be enough to prevent the virus from becoming endemic and continuing to wreak havoc on the wellbeing of the population.

Rather than putting all of our hopes on a vaccine that has not yet been approved for use, we must continue to fight for a reliable, officially supported method of eliminating the virus entirely. While vaccination is a very important part of this, it will not be effective alone and we cannot allow the government to encourage the fatalistic approach of relying solely on it, accepting the climbing death toll as an inevitable consequence of encouraging people back to work before coronavirus is effectively eradicated.

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