London lockdown coronavirus covid
A nearly empty street in London due to lockdown restrictions to help curb the spread of the coronavirus (File) Image Credit: NYT

As countries around the world roll out mass vaccination programme for adults, the World Health Organisation yesterday issued a stark warning. The WHO’s chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said the vaccination is unlikely to bring herd immunity in 2021, given the challenges in producing, distributing and administering the shots against Coronavirus.

The warning must be taken seriously by those who are banking heavily on vaccines to fight the disease and planning to lower restrictions.

In other words, vaccination and preventive measures must continue to get equal attention of governments till a sizeable population receives the shots. In addition to production and logistical challenges, the vaccination programme may hit other unforeseen hurdles, including new variants of the virus.

Down the line, vaccines may require tweaks to fight new strains and naturally waning immune response of the recipients.

Massive new surge

The WHO warning comes at a time when rich countries that are better placed to procure and administer the shots are facing a massive surge. In United Kingdom, for example, seven mass vaccination centres have been opened but the country’s top health care experts have predicted a surge in new infections and hospitalisations.

Similarly, in United States, stadiums, convention centres and fair grounds are serving as mass vaccination centres. If the surge continues, the rate of vaccination at these centres may slow down as health care workers will have to be deployed to treat those who are infected. So far, 9 million or 2.7 per cent of Americans have received the shots.

In the region, Lebanon is tightening a nationwide lockdown and introducing an 11-day, 24-hour curfew from Thursday due to a massive surge in new infections.

Adhere to safety precautions 

How the disease is contained in 2021 will largely depend on the behaviour of three broad stake holders — governments, vaccine recipients and non-recipients. The governments will have to continue to weigh in large scale restrictions, respond promptly to surges and allocate resources for vaccines.

Similarly, if the infection has to be kept at a rate that doesn’t overwhelm health care systems, both recipients and non-recipients of vaccines will have to continue to adhere to safety precautions and virus restrictions.

In the event of people failing to follow basic safety measures, the fight against the virus will be lost and severely hamper countries’ ability to vaccinate.

The next challenge is to invest in research on new strains of the virus and come up with effective strategies to prevent Coronavirus from becoming a seasonal endemic. The virus developing new virulent strains is a real threat and must not be overlooked.