Life goes on: The path forward after a pandemic

The pandemic has changed many things, our way to work, our way to commute, to live, but Covid-19 has not changed the human spirit, life goes on. Despite the Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted our daily lives, people are tired of the restrictions on mobility and contacts among the population.

The signs are everywhere in countries without enough vaccination to remove mobility restrictions. Despite the Delta variant, travel is almost back to prepandemic levels, the Google tracking of mobility shows no change or even increased mobility in some countries, and the population in settings with long periods of restrictions seems tired.

Human behavior is complex, many factors, both conscious and unconscious, enter in the internal decision-making process. Some of these factors are not related in any way to medicine or public health, but change our conduct and actions every day. This change in attitude towards the pandemic, from fear, to acceptance, to unawareness of the risks to die or get ill with Covid-19 has important implications for public health decision-makers around the world.

Based on this rational, this essay provides a few recommendations going forward. First, vaccination should be a top priority worldwide. The appearance of the Delta variant was entirely predictable, coronaviruses have a known mutation rate, and Delta could had happened in India or any other setting in the world with active outbreaks. The risk of novel emerging variants will continue to be high if the outbreaks are not controlled, the more outbreaks, the more risk of new variants. A large international effort, besides the one already going forward, is needed to vaccinate countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The production capacity of the currently available vaccines should be ramped up significantly to handle the demand of the remaining 6 billion people without full vaccination worldwide. Decision-makers worldwide also need to prepare for a booster dose of most vaccines to increase the effectiveness to current and potentially novel variants worldwide.

The second set of measures to curb down the pandemic are educational. The people worldwide need to be reminded of the risks to die if infected with Covid-19, especially in unvaccinated persons. The appearance of new more pathogenic variants, such as Alpha and Delta, increases the risks of death in younger population, with more risk of infection and death. In the United States, for example, these educational efforts might help reduce hesitancy to vaccinate for Covid-19. At the moment 48% of the population is fully vaccinated in the United States, a number nowhere near the 70-80% needed for herd immunity.

Third, decision-makers worldwide need to plan for the return of life back to normal, including large gatherings. From stadiums events and concerts, to small meetings in cafes and restaurants, there needs to be biosafety guidelines and protocols according to the local size of the outbreak, vaccination rates, and local values and customs. There needs to be a plan. Some countries have this, some other do not.

Finally, we need to prepare for future pandemics. The strengthening of the World Health Organization should be a top priority. The political blame game was not useful at the start of the pandemic and continues to be not useful now. The independence of the World Health Organization should be maintained to provide technical guidance and assurances in an uncertain world. This independence should also come from funders, the threat of removing funds for any reason only undercuts the mission of safekeeping the world’s health.