If Vaccines Aren’t Helping Reopen, Then What’s The Point?
The data shows obvious results from the COVID-19 vaccine rollouts across the United States. In February, the United States has had the largest declines in COVID cases and hospitalizations since the start of the pandemic. Even as the vaccine rollout has been slow with multiple false starts.
But it's not just the overall United States that has had notable response to the vaccine. Data in Louisiana also illustrates positive COVID results since the start of the vaccine rollout. With weekly rolling COVID case numbers declining to numbers we haven't seen in 8 months, as well as steep declines in numbers since the week that the state started registering completed vaccine treatments.
Additionally, the Former Commissioner of the FDA, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, has been pointing out that the vaccine supply is quickly outpacing the demand for the vaccine in the United States. Something that we've seen some notes of in Louisiana, especially when mobile vaccine sites put out calls to the public to get anyone (within the state's restrictions) they could to come get vaccines without appointments.
But while all of this is happening, there's been little-to-no discussion about what the impact of this will be on our reopening plans. Across the US, or here in Louisiana.
If we haven't seen any movement in the reopening plan in Louisiana with the massive declines we've seen since the start of the vaccination rollout, what's the point? Why would people who don't want the vaccine go get the vaccine if its not going to result in any changes? There's no benchmark, there's no stated goal, and there's no endgame listed anywhere. We don't know who low cases or hospitalizations need to get to reopen, and we don't know how many vaccines need to be given before we reopen. We're literally just going through the motions.
In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has laid out a roadmap for reopening the country. With date markers for different parts of the economy, it gives reasons for those who might not be sure about whether or not they want to get vaccinated reasons to get the shot. Something we're missing here in the US, and in Louisiana.
If Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards had a stated plan for when we could reopen sectors of our economy based on vaccinations, or case counts, it would incentivize the public to seek out the shots. If former FDA Commissioner Gottlieb is right, Louisiana is on the verge of running out of demand for the vaccine. Just this week the state expanded the eligibility for the shots to include a vast number of prerequisites.
These new Louisiana qualifiers for the COVID vaccine opens up eligibility to nearly half a million residents. But will the demand from that group materialize? If it does not, what happens next?
Furthermore, what happens when we get to a point in April where the vaccine is available to anyone in the state at their local retail pharmacy? It's very likely, and predicted by experts like Dr. Scott Gottlieb, that around April we will hit a tipping point in the supply and demand chain where we can make the vaccine widely available. When we get there, how do we continue to justify lockdowns on the economy without benchmarks?
Perhaps that should be the benchmark. Once vaccines are available to the general public, we should reopen all sectors of the economy.
If anyone who wants a shot can get a shot, and everyone who needs a shot has gotten a shot, why wouldn't we reopen? At that point aren't we all managing our own risk? Which is something we do daily. There are a ton of things we're allowed to do in our lives that significantly impact our well being, but we allow people to manage that risk. If the goal is that no one should ever be sick again, shut down the tobacco industry, alcohol, fast food, and any other behavior that increases your risk of illness or death.
Without a planned path forward, or incentives to get the vaccine, we're never going to hit 100%, or even 60%, of the population vaccinated. But if the vaccine is readily available to anyone at any time, and no one is getting it, how can we justify keeping the economy closed in anyway?
Honestly, I've been asking this question since the Pfizer vaccine was first announced in late 2020. But officials, especially in Louisiana, haven't even started to plan for their desired outcome. So right now, with declining cases, and increasing vaccine, we still don't know what we're trying to achieve.