Vaccines don’t stop transmission – it’s time to truly live with COVID-19

All legal COVID-19 restrictions have ended. In one week’s time, if you have been double-jabbed, you will not have to self-isolate even if you come into contact with a positive test. Over 75% of the British population has received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.

So there we have it. The pandemic is over and everything is back to normal, right? I mean, on a day-to-day basis, depending on how you live your life, this might be true. But the reality is, the nation is still gripped by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Flick on any mainstream news channel and you will see reporters dissecting tiny increases or decreases in daily COVID-19 infections, deaths and hospitalisations.

Sky News remains particularly gripped by the pandemic. Throughout lockdown, before its show went to a break, there would be a reminder of what rules were in place to curb the spread of COVID-19; the rule of six, the two-metre rule, and so on.

Photo by Obi Onyeador on Unsplash

And now, despite all restrictions having been lifted, such reminders still remain – except, there are no restrictions to remind us of. And so, the reminders simply state that there are no legal restrictions in place, as if anyone could forget.

This surmounts to a nation still mentally challenged by the last 18 months, unable to break free of its sheer obsession with daily figures, or the fear of things getting out of hand once again.

Cases are not low – yesterday, 23,510 people tested positive – nor are deaths, as 622 people died in the last seven days. But things are not as bad as they may seem.

Indeed, we must ask ourselves – do these figures equate to a significant disease burden? If 622 people died every week for an entire year, 32,444 people would die from COVID-19.

Of course, that is an extremely weak way to predict a potential yearly death toll from COVID-19. More would likely die in winter, though perhaps less would die in spring and summer, with there to be no artificial rise in cases in the immediate aftermath of a ‘Freedom Day’-style event.

Given that, on average, 30,000 people will die in a bad flu year, around 32,000-35,000 deaths would surely be an acceptable price to pay, right now, if it means we can continue to live our lives free from draconian restrictions?

Photo by Yasmina H on Unsplash

This always seems like quite a harsh statement, and indeed a harsh trade-off. But as silly as it may seem to say, it needs saying – people die. People have died from COVID-19 and people will continue to die from COVID-19. People have died from other diseases and will continue to do so. It is something we simply must accept.

Vaccines will no doubt continue to save lives as uptake increases, and more prescriptive remedies will be developed, too. This means that in two or three years, yearly deaths from COVID-19 could average below 30,000. Chris Whitty himself stated that 25,000 deaths per year would be acceptable.

Seemingly, then, we are not far off that reality. So why all the panic? Why the continued obsession with daily rises and falls? The way certain people continue to treat the pandemic is no longer proportionate to the risk, especially in light of a recent report presented by scientist to MPs.

Speaking to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on COVID-19, Professor Andrew Pollard, member of the Oxford vaccine team, stated: “Anyone who is still unvaccinated will, at some point, meet the virus.”

“We don’t have anything that will stop transmission, so I think we are in a situation where herd immunity is not a possibility.”

Given this reality, Paul Hunter, Professor in Medicine at the University of East Anglia, also told the Parliamentary group: “We need to start moving away from just reporting infections, or just reporting positive cases admitted to hospital, to actually start reporting the number of people who are ill because of Covid.”

“Otherwise we are going to be frightening ourselves with very high numbers that actually don’t translate into disease burden.”

Pollard went on to argue that continued mass testing would create a false sense of danger and would ultimately lead to a perpetual [and unnecessary] cycle of vaccination.

And yet, as noted, vaccines are never going to eliminate transmission. If we constantly use positive cases as reasons to re-vaccinate, the cycle will never be broken.

The solution?

Pollard states that testing needs to move towards ‘clinically driven testing in which people are willing to get tested and treated and managed, rather than lots of community testing’.

Of course, all of this is easier said than done, both practically and mentally. If we stop mass testing, we might lose sight of virus hotspots and therefore find it difficult to locate those seriously ill with COVID-19, making it harder to treat them.

It is also a big leap to make considering the scale of testing in this country for the last 12 months. At times, we have been testing one million people every day. It is a remarkable feat of science. Now, though, it is simply not necessary.

Vaccines will continue to play an important role in fighting COVID-19. They will, essentially, turn COVID-19 into a very mild illness for most who catch it.

I, for one, can attest to this. Despite being double-jabbed, I contracted COVID-19 a couple of weeks ago. For a couple of days, it felt as though I had jumped in a pool and accidentally snorted the water; I also lost my sense of smell and taste. Perhaps most interestingly, I developed a crippling obsession with Hugh Grant rom-coms from the 1990s.

Two weeks later, I am completely fine, back in the gym and no longer longing for the love Grant’s characters so easily found. Ultimately, the vaccine did its job: it neutralised COVID-19 and saved my life. It is worth noting that I am a type-one diabetic and asthmatic, seemingly more vulnerable.

The vaccines work better than we could have ever hoped. They are saving lives. Now, we need to take the next big leap – it is time to truly live with COVID-19.


Vaccine passports are dangerous and discriminatory – we must oppose them now

The government is treading dangerously along the path of compulsory COVID-19 vaccinations in all but name – we must make our voices heard if it is to be stopped.

You might need a vaccination to go abroad, they said a couple of months ago. Then they said it might be necessary to attend large-scale gatherings, such as football matches or concerts. Now, you might need a COVID-19 vaccination to go to the pub. What might it be next? To obtain employment or God forbid, leave your home?

Though it may seem totally unfeasible that the government would mandate a ‘Stay At Home’ order solely for those who have refused vaccination, this is essentially what they would be doing by mandating vaccination in order to get back to the things we love.

And in doing so, the government would, effectively, be breaking the law – the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 specifically states that members of the public should not be compelled to undergo any mandatory medical treatment, including vaccinations.

Given what this nation, and this world, has endured for the last 12 months, would the sustained removal of one’s freedom not constitute compulsion? Ultimately, government powers would be coercing individuals into acting in a certain manner – removing one’s freedoms and changing the conditions upon which they are returned.

It could even be said that it would represent a violation of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which grants an individual the right of respect for one’s ‘private life’.

Now, the ECHR also states an important exception: when it comes to the protection of public health. However, we have been repeatedly told by a whole raft of experts that a so-called ‘COVID-zero’ policy is not an option and that we would have to live with the virus once we have achieved herd immunity.

Given the policy of herd immunity [through vaccination], and what it offers, alongside the realistic acceptance that more lives will inevitably be lost due to COVID-19, the government cannot justifiably claim they are protecting public health by mandating vaccinations.

In fact, you could argue that they would be making it worse. The mental health implications would be huge – not only would a whole manner of individuals feel ostracised by their personal choice to refuse a vaccine but for many, merely knowing that they had no choice but to get a vaccine would have devastating consequences for one’s perception of freedom.

The results would not only be devastating for individuals but for our entire society. What we would be left with is an increasingly two-tiered society, one that not only creates new forms of discrimination but encourages and exacerbates existing ones.

It is well documented that there is a relative increase when it comes to vaccine hesitancy within ethnic-minority communities – though we absolutely need to communicate with such communities to encourage take-up, compelling vaccination through passports whilst aware of this existing discrepancy would ultimately represent a very real and damaging form of state-inflicted racial discrimination, which would inevitably spill over into the rest of society.

The government needs to stop treading along this path and really embrace what it means to live with the virus: vaccine passports would not represent living with COVID-19, it would mean changing the way we live because of it, and not for the better.


Politics on Screen: Breaking Bad & the reality of the US healthcare system

Beware, spoilers lie ahead – surely everyone’s watched Breaking Bad though, right? Right? If you haven’t, then what the fuck are you doing?! We have all been locked indoors for the last year – there really are no excuses.

There has been a Breaking Bad-shaped hole in our lives for almost ten years now, though its legacy definitely still lives on – in 2019, Vince Gilligan picked up the pen again to tell a classic ‘what happened next’ story of universally-loved character, Jesse Pinkman.

There is also the highly-rated prequel series ‘Better Call Saul’ – this follows the original series’ shady lawyer Saul Goodman, or Jimmy McGill, in the years leading up to Breaking Bad.

And yet, Breaking Bad is arguably still to be replaced as the TV show that everybody talks about.

When people reminisce over the series, they tend to think of the series’ complicated protagonist, Walter White, killing his arch-nemesis Gus Fring, or when he ran over those two drug dealers, or when he ordered Jesse to kill Gale, or when he watched Jesse’s girlfriend die…yeah, that guy was fucking tapped.

Something that is perhaps not remembered as commonly is the social commentary inextricably tied to the series – specifically, what it said about the American healthcare system.

This is particularly intriguing coming from the UK, where there is universal access to a state-funded, national health service.

After all, Walter was originally lured into the world of methamphetamine due to the financial disaster surrounding his cancer diagnosis.

And though his ascendancy to the throne of a methamphetamine empire within the space of two years might have been exaggerated for entertainment, the inability to pay for one’s medical bills, or even insurance, is the reality for millions of people across the US.

Despite being the self-proclaimed leader of the free world, the United States is one of the only nations in the Western world void of a universal healthcare program.

Healthcare facilities are largely owned and operated by private sector businesses. Over 58% of community hospitals in the United States are non-profit, though still profit; a mere 21% are government-owned and a staggering 21% operate on a for-profit basis.

Unsurprisingly, there are real-life repercussions to the United States’ flawed system of healthcare – out of 35 industrialised OECD countries, America ranks 22nd for public health.

Since Breaking Bad aired, the situation only seems to be getting worse: in 2016 and 2017 life expectancy in the United States dropped for the first time since 1993.

A 2017 survey conducted of the healthcare systems of 11 OECDs also found the US healthcare system to be the most expensive and worst-performing in relation to health access, efficiency, and equity.

It is no wonder that Gilligan felt so compelled to centre his dramatic drug-infused crime-drama around an average American citizen who simply could not afford to pay for his cancer treatment.

The persistence of the healthcare problem since the show aired demonstrates Gilligan’s understanding of the scale and nature of the crisis, only making its social commentary more profound upon rewatch.

Most disturbingly, the 27 million uninsured Americans do not have the luxury Walter had – we are talking about a TV show here, a highly-dramatised piece of fiction. Walter, in his own fucked up way, ended up paying for his medical bills, and those of his DEA brother-in-law, Hank Schrader.

Outside of Walt’s world, millions of Americans work for the rest of their lives in order to pay for any sudden medical problems that come their way – given that these are often fatal, people can be left with little dignity as they succumb to illness.

This is not fiction, it is reality: America’s healthcare system costs lives every year. This was confirmed by a study carried out by Harvard Medical School in 2009 – it found that over 45,000 preventable deaths occur every year in the US and are directly associated with a lack of medical insurance.

In a scarily-ironic metaphor for the American healthcare system, Walter White’s method to pay for his medical bills led to the deaths of countless people across the series. In real-life, thousands of people die no matter what.

And so, while Walter White starts off as a victim of the healthcare system, he soon becomes a representation of it – a money-driven, ruthless cancer that leaves countless victims in its wake across the United States.