With the worrying new Omicron variant of Covid-19 now set to become dominant around the world, there is a race to rollout booster jabs faster than was originally planned. The gap between received the second jab and a booster has been shortened from six months to three, and all adults are set to be offered a third dose by the end of January.
However, it remains to be seen if this will be enough to suppress the rapid spread of the evolved virus, and just how effective the vaccines are against it. Already, the government has moved into Plan B measures, including instructions to work from home where possible, and wear masks in shops and theatres, and most other public spaces.
One of the problems facing the NHS this winter is that the Covid patients who are being admitted to hospital with severe levels of the disease are largely unvaccinated. This is putting extra pressure on an already overstrained service, that is struggling to catch up with the backlog that has built up in other areas.
One measure which has been discussed recently is whether to introduce compulsory vaccinations for the whole population. Other countries are already taking steps towards this. For example, Sky News reports that unvaccinated people in Germany are to be banned from all non-essential stores, and cultural and recreational venues.
The German parliament is already set to consider making vaccines mandatory in February, amid rising Covid cases in the country. Austria has already introduced mandatory vaccinations from February. It’s a controversial issue that raises questions about human rights, and also of how such a mandate could be enforced.
Here in the UK, iNews reports that Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also raised the possibility with some recent remarks. He said that a ‘national conversation’ was needed about the issue. He said he did not “want us to have a society of a culture where we force people to get vaccinated” but went on to add:
“I think that there is going to come a point, if we can show that the vaccines are capable of holding Omicron – and that is the key thing we need to test – I do think we need to have a national conversation about ways in which we deal with this pandemic.”
“I don’t think we can keep going indefinitely with non-pharmaceutical interventions, I mean restrictions on people’s way of life, just because a substantial proportion of the population still sadly has not got vaccinated.”
Scientists seem to have already accepted that it is past the stage where Covid-19 can be eradicated from the population, and from now on it will be endemic in society. The question is how soon the transition away from the cycle of lockdowns and restrictions should be made.
With scientists racing to tweak existing vaccines to be more effective against variants, and antiviral treatments also being developed at an impressive rate, it seems that in the future, it will be a case of immunising on a global scale that is the preferred solution.
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