At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, when the light at the end of the tunnel was fleeting, the public conscience seemed convinced that the world would never be the same again. Wild speculation about the ‘new normal’ has gone viral. Now that we are coming out of the tunnel, there is the opposite risk: that the world will return to being exactly as it was. But if the pandemic disappears, the virus will not disappear – and its threat is and will be real for people belonging to risk groups.
Pandemics don’t die – they dissipate. Sooner or later, enough people develop immunity and the viruses don’t find hosts at the speed they need to spread. The spectacular speed with which the scientific community has developed vaccines against covid has made this moment come sooner. However, to date, only one disease has been eradicated, smallpox. Others, like influenza, measles or cholera, have slowly become endemic.
The transition to endemic and its intensity will depend on three factors: the proportion of immunized people and the quality and durability of vaccination, treatment and the evolution of the virus.
At the darkest hour, when society, the scientific community and the public authorities are operating under extraordinary pressure, the risk is that the rationality of behavior will be undermined by excessiveness and alarmism. Now the risk is that it is through negligence and omission.
According to the Ministry of Health, more than 54 million Brazilians between the ages of 18 and 59 have their booster dose delayed. More serious are the 10 million elderly people. Numbers may be lower due to registration delays. Still, they suggest a slowdown. The relaxation of the population, while not justifiable, is understandable. But, for this very reason, public authorities must develop mobilization strategies.
The same risk exists with regard to testing and treatment. To control abnormal outbreaks and protect at-risk groups, rapid and affordable testing will be essential. Investments in more effective and cheaper drugs will be even more important.
As soon as vaccines were integrated into the immunization system, adherence – despite a recent loosening – was massive. The country quickly reached and even surpassed the rates of developed countries. But, when it comes to testing and medicine, Brazil is still lagging behind.
At the height of the nightmare, around 3.6 billion people around the world were living under some form of social distancing. As these restrictions and their greatest symbol, the masks, fall to the ground, the year 2022 offers a unique opportunity to celebrate brotherhood. More than mechanically returning to the old normal, everyone should set aside space in their routines to rediscover the value of prosaic yet deeply human gestures, like a face-to-face conversation or a simple hug. But for this coexistence to be healthy and rational, we must learn to live with the virus and create strategies to protect the vulnerable, for whom it will remain a mortal threat.