2020 main course

It looks like we’re polishing off the main course served to us by 2020. I summarised the first 6 months of this calamity back in June, at which point the coronavirus infections had passed 7 million globally. It is now more than ten times that number! According to Johns Hopkins University 75 million people have been infected and over 1.5 million people have lost their lives. (2020-12-19) Countries across the world are either in, or going into lockdowns of varying severity.

Despite these shocking numbers, we have some good news. There are now several vaccines – two of which have been approved in the US, EU approval only a matter of days away, two others rolling out in Russia and China, and at least one more in a few months. We’re being assured that the approved vaccines have been developed so rapidly not because of cutting corners, but because of intense effort, parallel activities and pre-emptive resourcing (manufacturing ahead of regulatory approval). Naturally this means that a lot of work went to waste. There were many fruitless lines of investigation, much production that eventually had to be dumped, lots of promising developments that failed for one reason or another.

Nevertheless, we now have vaccines.

The planet has almost 8 billion people and the vaccines generally need two doses per person, so we need 16 billion doses. This is shipped in little glass vials typically holding 5 doses each. Maybe 60% of people will actually get the vaccine, as there will always be people who will decline, and some who can’t for sound medical reasons. Hopefully the world will ensure that those who want the vaccine but don’t have the resources will be helped by those of us who are better off.

The different vaccines have their own complications. One needs to be stored at -70°C. Another, bizarrely, seems to work best given as a half dose followed by a full one several weeks later. This is all going to be challenging in terms of logistics and data management.

Even good intentions by medical teams could cause problems. For example, with the early rollout of the first vaccine in the West it was discovered that some of the 5-dose vials contained enough for a 6th dose. Rather than waste the extra vaccine, many have been giving it to patients. However, as a second dose is a necessary follow-up, this means that the suppliers need to know about the unexpected beneficiaries of the overflow doses to ensure they have stock for the second round.

Meanwhile, the after-effects of Brexit still loom large. The temporary transition period expires in two weeks and there is still no agreement between the EU and UK regarding trade and other topics of mutual interest. This weekend could be the last chance the two will have to iron out the remaining creases (the thorny subject of access to fishing waters around the UK being the last straw). The signs are not good, but failure to come to some arrangement would be a disaster for everyone so there will be some colourful manoeuvring and overt pressure on both sides to hammer out something, even if it means going beyond the final, final deadline.

Across the bigger pond the US has chosen a new president, so while their problems haven’t gone away, perhaps there will be less chaos compared to the past few years, which will be a welcome change. At least we won’t be waking every morning wondering what new horror has appeared on Twitter.

This 2020 main course should be over in the next month or two. Everything will change as we use the New Year palette cleanser and prepare to tuck into 2021 dessert, which will involve a ramped-up vaccination programme, some clarity on UK-EU relations, a steady hand on the US tiller and a new determination to get our world back in shape.

It could still take another six months before there’s some semblance of normality, whatever that is.

Categorised as: LUE

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