Which raises the next question now forming in the minds of scientists and veteran worriers everywhere: what will happen once the Delta variant has finished infecting whomever it will infect? Will the horror show finally end? Or will there be yet another wave of yet another variant, one that can evade the current vaccines? Are we looking at an even worse lockdown than the grim pre-vaccine hunkering that we saw in 2020?
No one knows. I repeat: no one knows. No one can know. Which means even though we might be approaching an awkward start-stop, yes-no, relax-panic, “is it really over?” phase, we are stuck flying blind. Sorry. But regardless of the irreducible uncertainty, we’re bound to see articles — many, many articles, like this one — and interviews — many, many interviews — on what comes after the Delta variant. Even though planning doesn’t always make perfect, considering the range of “maybes” is the only way to prepare.
Thus, even with the persistent proliferation of anti-vaccine, anti-mask and anti-distancing messages, states with high vaccine rates did indeed pull themselves out of the sky-is-falling misery of the winter. While there is of course backsliding as the Delta strain takes hold, these states continue a relatively normal existence. Yes, masks are back in many cases, and there are difficult decisions ahead about schools and the need for booster shots.
In contrast, states with low vaccination rates are on a much more difficult path and will not establish equipoise with the virus until thousands and thousands more become ill. The ones that survive, combined with those already vaccinated, will eventually provide a comparable collective immunity that will allow them to establish something resembling normalcy — though at tremendous cost of life, health and resources.
All of this is, of course, only my educated guess. Covid-19 behaves in ways we’ve never seen before — there’s the lack of clear seasonality, the transmissibility before clinical illness and the hyperinflammation that causes the bulk of serious clinical illness. With vaccines as with so much else, Covid-19 may not play by the previously established rules.
Uncertainty abounds right now as it has for the entire pandemic. The only real certainty we have is this: the world’s herd will eventually become immune to the Delta variant one way (via vaccine) or another (through infection, disease and possible death). Humans can decide between the options but the virus has declared its intent.
As for what the world will look like post-Delta, that too remains uncertain. But Covid-19 looks increasingly like it’s here to stay. Much like the seasonal flu, we will probably have coronavirus outbreaks in the years ahead, with good years and bad years and better and worse vaccine boosters. And much like measles, whooping cough and other preventable infections, there will continue to be relatively small groups of people who prefer to forgo vaccines, despite the many risks. This, of course, could then endanger the rest of the population.
It appears this debate, fueled largely by misinformation, will continue until the public recognizes that the pandemic is caused by an infectious disease and not political opportunism. Given this simple fact, it will not be stopped by threats or protests or speeches, but rather by vaccination and other preventive measures — just like so many infectious diseases before it.