Vaccines: good news, but not a free pass

After enduring nearly a year of what seems like a never-ending programme of lockdowns, travel restrictions, quarantines and social distancing measures, it’s impossible not to be at least a little heartened by the positive news reports on the progress with the various new COVID-19 vaccines. With some countries set to order – and even starting to administer – doses of the first vaccine to those most vulnerable this side of Christmas, it does feel like a light at the end of a very long tunnel.


Without wishing to diminish this good news and the progress taking place, we know there is still a long road ahead of us before we return to the freedom of movement we all enjoyed pre-COVID. Customers are starting to ask us how long into 2021 they need to plan for having a supply of reusable face coverings on hand, and while we can’t predict the future, we don’t anticipate any major changes to rules about social distancing or wearing face coverings at least until the latter half of next year.


Of course this will vary from country to country, but it’s unlikely we’ll see administration of the vaccines to the wider population outside the most vulnerable categories until mid 2021 at the earliest. There are a lot of factors at play in vaccinating what basically amounts to the world’s population. Having enough doses, getting them to the right places and storing them safely are just a few of these, all of which require careful planning -- not to mention the logistics of giving the actual jabs in safe, socially distanced scenarios in communities around the world.


Before we can hug, kiss and dance in the streets, we’ll still need to be patient and maintain safety measures to make sure the vaccines are effective enough to stop the spread of the virus.


The actual ‘new normal’

Putting the mechanics and efficacy of vaccines aside, this global ‘dancing in the streets’ scenario is unlikely to take place en mass. We are not going to be looking at an ‘all clear’ one day and a return to pre-COVID behaviours the very next. It is much more likely that we’ll see a slow relaxation of the rules by local and national governments, coupled with cautious steps back into ‘normalcy’ from the public.


In fact, what’s ‘normal’ has been fundamentally altered through months of avoiding crowded places and wearing face coverings in public. And if Asia is anything to go by, we may find that some of these behaviours will continue long after the virus is under control. In countries affected by SARS in the early 2000s, for example, many people never stopped wearing face coverings in public places.


It remains to be seen how the vaccines will play out and 2021 will most likely be a year of transition. Even after they’ve taken their full effect, it will still be about managing the virus and stopping the spread. Many of us will still be taking our face coverings with us wherever we go, even as the rules are relaxed. And it will still take some of us longer before we feel comfortable wandering into crowded public spaces, booking events or travel plans - let alone sitting next to strangers on a train, in the theatre or cinema.


So please be safe, patient and tolerant as we all take tentative steps into this next phase toward recovery and work together to redefine what ‘normal’ looks like in a post-COVID world.