By the end of 2020, the USA had distributed 2.1 million doses of its Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines. Other countries also rolled out vaccines, and Bangladesh plans to vaccinate 140 million people in the next two years.
The WHO, however, has pointed out that vaccines will not be a magic bullet. It will not end the pandemic overnight. Vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna, SinoVac, or any other source cannot simply return life to pre-pandemic conditions without masks, social distancing, temperature checks and area lockdowns.
Interestingly, Bangladesh has had a relatively optimistic recovery rate. From official statements, the total COVID-19 cases at the start of the new year January 1, 2021, was 514,000 of whom 457,000 recovered, while 7,559 lost their lives.
As that number creeps up every day once again and we prepare ourselves in the coming months for a vaccine, we must continue to follow the precautionary measures that help scale down the devastation the contagious virus can cause.
Although multiple vaccines have proved successful in trials, with large-scale mass vaccinations beginning within the next few weeks, the WHO has warned against vaccine overconfidence.
"Vaccines do not equal zero Covid," said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director of WHO. With the pandemic continuing its onslaught, the Director-General warned that the "growing perception that the pandemic is over," would place tremendous pressure on hospitals and healthcare staff.
There is also the logistical challenge of transporting many of the vaccines. The most popular vaccinations (not including the ones for COVID-19) are currently available for refrigeration at 2-8 ºC, with a preferred average of 5 ºC, with minor variations.
Similarly, Pfizer vaccines must be kept very cold at -70 ºC, which is colder than an Antarctic winter. Moderna said its vaccine still has to be frozen, but only at a temperature of -20 ºC, much like a standard freezer.
A perfect example of how second waves emerge and the pandemic's harsh reality can be illustrated by Thailand's case. For over five months, there were no recorded cases of COVID-19 because of strict border controls, lockdown measures, and people following safety and social distancing measures.
However, on December 20, the country saw its cases surge over 500 overnight, despite having zero locally transmitted cases for months. The spread was traced back to a migrant worker from Myanmar who had caught the disease and visited a fish market in Samutsakron, a coastal province southwest of Bangkok. To maintain control of the contagion, the authorities placed a two-week shutdown.
Lockdown measures still have to be followed if cases rise again. Dr Bijon Kumar Shil, who had worked with his team during the 2002-2004 SARS outbreak, explained that even after getting vaccinated, people might still transfer the virus. Dr Shil is still optimistic about the vaccine as he believes that if 90 percent of the world population can be vaccinated, we can secure 70 percent herd immunity. He also thought that there is a chance for us to go back to the pre-pandemic situation if precautions are maintained and the second strain of the virus does not spread substantially.
However, even after vaccination, Dr Shil advises people to wear masks, maintain handwashing hygiene and social distancing. Vaccinating 90 percent of the world population is no small feat, especially in Bangladesh, and the authorities have planned a 24-month scheme.
Countries may continue with lockdown measures until major vaccines are in effect. Travel may resume, but not to the pre-pandemic levels. The culture of working from home might also become a legacy of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We have to note that it will take time for people to get vaccinated and even after that, countries like Bangladesh face logistical challenges as the vaccines need to be stored at very low temperatures. With so many countries reeling from the second wave of COVID-19, we must realise that we have a long way to go to return to normalcy.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.