The Corner

Health Care

The Coming Fights About Vaccinations and Returning to Normal

The CEO of the Australian airline Qantas said his company will require travelers on international flights to be vaccinated for the coronavirus once it’s available. “Whether you need that domestically, we’ll have to see what happens with COVID-19 in the market, but certainly for international visitors coming out and people leaving the country, we think that’s a necessity,” Alan Joyce said.

“Once it’s available” will probably not be simple to measure.

Pfizer, Moderna, and now AstraZeneca/Oxford have good news about the effectiveness of their vaccines, but we’re still not going to have enough vaccine doses to inoculate everyone at once. The state government of Texas just announced they will start with protecting health-care workers, frontline workers, and vulnerable populations at highest at greater risk of severe disease and death if they contract COVID-19. It is likely that most or all U.S. states will use similar prioritization.

The first couple months of 2021 could see some pretty complicated arguments about who should be allowed into where and when, depending upon their vaccination status.

A decent percentage of the population will be in the lower-risk categories and at the back of the lines for vaccination, but they will want to start getting on planes and getting together in groups again. They’ll really resent it if some Americans can go back to normal life safely, while they’re still waiting for their turn for the vaccine. Will it be safe to allow an unvaccinated 25-year-old on a plane, if the vaccine is only available to those over 65 for another month? Would Qantas or other airlines or companies bar someone for being unvaccinated, even if the vaccine is not yet available to someone like him? Many people are flying on planes unvaccinated now; why would it be an unacceptable risk a few months from now?

Once a person is in a group that qualifies for vaccination, how long do they have to get vaccinated before they’re barred from certain activities? Will airlines, arenas, concert halls, stadiums, etc. say, “Your group qualified for the vaccine two days ago, you’re not allowed onto this flight?” Or a week? A month?

Since some of the vaccines require two doses, are you considered vaccinated after the first dose or the second one?

The good news is that once we’ve gotten those high-priority groups vaccinated, the risk of death or serious illness should decline significantly and we can take giant steps back towards normal life. Yes, young people can suffer serious effects — particularly if they are obese, suffer hypertension, or are diabetic — and it will be good to get our percentage of vaccinated people as high as possible. Moncef Slaoui, the chief scientific adviser for Operation Warp Speed, said this weekend that the United States could hit herd immunity by May.