Going by what we know so far

Kai Kupferschmidt

Going by what we know so far, places like Germany or the US are in for a world of trouble in the coming weeks.

So, I want to make a few general points here once that go beyond the science (will do the rest later):

Firstly, why are we in trouble?

Forget everything else for a moment and just look at the growth rate of omicron in places like Denmark and Norway. Look at London. This virus is moving fast. It spreads fast. And it will find those most vulnerable fast.

Unfortunately, places like Germany and the US still have a lot of vulnerable people who are unvaccinated.

This variant will find those people fast and if it is anything like previous variants it will make a significant portion of these people very, very sick.

Even if it turns out that omicron causes milder disease in unvaccinated people (which we have no way of knowing right now and no reason to assume), the sheer spread will likely eat up any advantage.

Add to that a lot of people sick and off work and hospitals already full…

As Bill Hanage told me: “There’s not much that can spread this fast and be benign to a society that’s already got full hospitals without it.”

I was reminded yesterday that I wrote a story last year called A divisive disease

Here’s the thing: This virus has always been good at dividing us (and we have damn sure made it easy for it at times). omicron will make those divisions even starker.

Within countries: in Germany we have 20-year-olds with no risk factors who are vaccinated and boosted. The individual risk to them is really, really low. We also have unvaccinated 70-year-olds with risk factors. So, the gap between those most and those least at risk has grown.

Between countries: some countries have rolled out highly protective vaccines for basically everyone and omicron is making them booster more and faster. Other countries are still struggling to get vaccines to give those most at risk their first shots.

The gap is growing.

The only solution to this is to realize that we are part of a community, a country, a world and that we cannot extricate ourselves from that web of interdependencies.

So, think things through starting at the end.

And then act accordingly.

I understand the frustration at the unvaccinated. I feel it.

But they are part of our community. If a lot of these people end up in hospital (plus lots of staff out sick), then healthcare is likely to collapse and that will affect you too. And your neighbour and your parents.

So, giving up simply is not an option.

We have to try and reach these people and we have to try and understand their fears and address them and we all have to work to build trust in each other.

But the truth is:

Whatever we do now in terms of vaccinating the unvaccinated, it won’t do anything for this rapidly building wave.

We are stuck with our collective (political, societal) failures and we will have to deal with it.

So, expect significant restrictions again.

Just remember:

It may feel like 2020 all over again, but your PERSONAL RISK if you are vaccinated and boostered is a LOT lower than it was then.

 Omicron presents a SOCIETAL RISK because it makes up for that by infecting many more people at once.

So, for many of us when we think about our own personal health and well-being the next weeks, we should concentrate more on how to stay connected to friends and family, how to stay active.

So: Talk to people, prepare, do things you enjoy, make plans for the summer, for after.

This is a really important point:

If you have people dear to you that are older or have comorbidities and that you cannot convince to get vaccinated, you can still impress on them how dangerous the next weeks will be for them and that they need to reduce contacts, wear masks etc.

One last point:

If – like me – you are vaccinated and boosted, you may still be worried about what is to come, you may be fearful for others and you may feel frustrated facing restrictions again amid this omicron wave.

But remember:


We are largely protected from severe disease.

We have access to life-saving tools many people in the world have been denied.

We have not been manipulated by those who know better into believing dangerous nonsense.

Let’s try and turn that privilege into something positive:

Let’s look out for others.

Let’s support those most in need of support in the coming weeks even if they made decisions we disagree with.

Let’s help people by spreading good information from trusted sources.


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