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Ideas

When Will COVID End? The Question That Won't Go Away

Vaccination was supposed to free us from the pandemic's frightening grip. Things would go back to normal, with parties and hugs and everything else. But now with the Delta variant, and the vaccines less than full-proof, COVID is again dominating our collective psyche.

When Will COVID End? The Question That Won't Go Away

After finally receiving a second dose of the COVID vaccine, everybody was expecting to be protected from the virus

Héctor Abad Faciolince

-Essay-

BOGOTA — I often say, even if it's not really true, that I never get my hopes up too high. That way I can avoid disappointment. Only, life loses a good deal of its charm if you're rarely excited about anything. As Armando Manzanero's song (on nocturnal fantasies!) says, "Who cares if I live on dreams/If it makes me happy?"

It's true that we're often much more joyful and celebratory on the eve of a feast than on the day itself. We know that an appetizer can be as delectable as the main dish, and that dreaming of travel can be more beautiful than an actual trip.

Likewise, I think many of us, after finally receiving our second dose of the COVID vaccine, were expecting to be protected from the virus that has distorted our lives. We entertained the idea of "immunization" in the full sense of the term: We would be immune to the illness, shielded from this awful virus. As such, we spent weeks or months dreaming of happiness, parties, trips, hugs and friendly faces for a while.

But when the full truth began to emerge, the disappointment was grievous, even if nobody can deprive us of the fanciful joys of past months. Just for a moment we hated the realists who had opened our eyes, but knew that, like it or not, we must return to bitter reality.

The confidence that came with vaccination is fading.

Suddenly "immunized" no longer meant we weren't going to be infected but that our infection would not become symptomatic. Still, we were assured that if we did get infected, the illness would be light, and that with the vaccine, it was much less likely — but not impossible, mind you — that we would end up in the ICU or a coffin.

The great dream has become a paltry consolation. Then came disturbing reports of new coronavirus variants (working their way through the Greek alphabet), for which we have yet to know for sure whether or not all the vaccines are effective, or to what degree. Fortunately they have worked against the variants so far, and infection specialists believe new variants will be much more contagious but less lethal. At the end of the day, viruses prefer to spread and replicate rather than kill their host.

We spent weeks or months dreaming of parties, trips, hugs and friendly faces — Photo: Philipp Von Ditfurth/dpa via ZUMA Press

The Delta variant, however, seems to have remodeled this residual optimism into apprehension. Without a doubt the best protection was, and is, to be vaccinated, wear your mask, wash your hands and avoid closed spaces full of people. But the vaccine is like a bullet-proof jacket that protects our vital organs, not our legs. The same way that a mask protects your facial orifices, not your hands, etc..

Optimism in wealthy countries now rests with the third jab — a vaccine boost — which is meant to compensate for a gradual decline in antibodies. And while there are no conclusive studies on a third jab being essential for all those without impaired immunity, rich countries have already started hoarding vaccines, hampering their transfer to poor countries that have not even had the first doses.

Obviously pharmaceutical firms prefer to sell to those who can pay any price, and upfront, instead of haggling with poorer countries that want discounts and time to pay. We live with the pretty idea of altruism and expect it of our betters — and that's one illusion that never fails to disappoint.

Like the jabs themselves, the confidence that came with vaccination is fading. The most solid prospect left for us for now is that two jabs will thwart severe COVID. I, for one, live on that hope and want to keep it alive every day.

Hopes help us live much longer if we can nurture them without fearing disappointments. But the illusion must have the force of truth to work. And for now, at least, it's still true that vaccination will almost certainly save us from death.

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This is the Argentine author's fourth world cup abroad, but his first as the father of two young boys.

photo of Lionel Messi saluting the crowd

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This is the fourth World Cup that I’m watching away from my home country, Argentina. Every experience has been different but, at times, Qatar 2022 feels a lot like Japan-South Korea 2002, the first one I experienced from abroad, when I was 20 years old and living in Spain.

Now, two decades later, living in Greece as the father of two children, some of those memories are reemerging vividly.

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