Nightmare scenarios involving deadly new variants are making us all too gloomy – but there’s a scientific case for optimism
It can be quite easy, reading the press, to believe that the pandemic will never end. Even when good news about vaccines started to arrive in the autumn, this grim narrative managed to harden. In the past month, you could read “five reasons that herd immunity is probably impossible”, even with mass vaccination; breathless reports about yet-uncharacterised but potentially ruinous variants, such as the “double mutant” variant in India, or two concerning variants potentially swapping mutations and teaming up in a “nightmare scenario” in California; get ready, some analysts said, for the “permanent pandemic”.
Among many people I know, a sort of low-grade doom has set in. They think the vaccines are a mere sliver of hope, only holding back the virus for a short time before being worn down by a rush of ever-cleverer variants that will slosh around us, perhaps for ever. Things might briefly get better, they believe, but only by a little, and even that is tenuous.