Once so many people have either had Covid-19 or been vaccinated against it that it’s equally likely that someone is vulnerable to it as not, restrictions on those who aren’t vulnerable to the virus (and therefore cannot spread it) are going to be harder to maintain. We’re going to see more people rebelling against mask requirements on planes in late March than we’ve seen so far.
- An increasing number of people have had the virus and aren’t immediately vulnerable to it. Far more people have had Covid-19 than official ‘confirmed’ cases suggest. Perhaps roughly 20% of the U.S. population has already had the virus, and more are getting it every day in record numbers.
- Vaccines are coming. The Pfizer vaccine appears to be both safe and efficacious, and may receive an emergency use authorization before year end. Moderna has reported out data from its phase 3 trial as well, and it appears quite effective. There’s a good chance that AstraZeneca’s vaccine will be approved at least in Europe soon enough.
- By late winter vaccines will add to the number of people who aren’t vulnerable. It will be many months, or even close to a year, before ‘everyone in the U.S. that wants to be vaccinated can be’. I’d expect vaccines to be available to many people though by early spring. Some people may even travel to the Mideast to get early access to a Chinese vaccine. A vaccine may not be totally effective, but most people that are vaccinated will act as though it is.
Between people who have had the virus recently, and those who have been vaccinated against it, we could be looking at anywhere between one third to one half of the population by late winter.
It doesn’t matter than not everyone who has had the virus will retain full immunity. Most people do for a reasonable period of time, or else we’d have seen far more re-infections than we have. Even when antibodies are no longer detectable in a Covid patient, their t-cells will generally prompt the creation of antibodies if re-exposed to the virus. In any case many cases will have been quite recent due to the current uncontrolled spread of the virus.
When perhaps 40% of the population isn’t vulnerable to Covid-19, and thus can’t spread the virus either, will they still wear masks – when doing so is effectively theater?
There’s a solidarity element to being ‘all in this together’ and it’s not possible for anyone to know whether someone else has had the virus or been vaccinated. Until now we’ve assumed ‘everyone is a risk’ even though that isn’t quite correct. But it’s been reasonably good odds, since only a small portion of the population has had the virus, we don’t know ex ante who may have cross-immunity from exposure to other coronaviruses, and there’s been no vaccine.
Soon enough half of people may not be at risk. Do we still shame people not wearing masks when half of people don’t need to, except for symbolic reasons or because it’s inefficient to sort who should be wearing one and who does need to?
Make no mistake, I expect mask requirements to remain in space in late March and early April. And I support those, even if masks aren’t as prophylactic as they’re sometimes made out to be, since they do seem to provide some protection against spread.
However I expect that an increasingly number of people, part of the group that’s either had the virus or been vaccinated, will rebel against further restrictions on their behavior when they aren’t a risk to others any longer.