The markets apparently reacted strongly to positive news on the vaccine front this week. There’s more hype than substance in here though. It’s not that the vaccine progress itself is overblown, but the supposed impact is.
Where would this pandemic be in another six to twelve months without a vaccine? Maybe a little more of a problem. Prior epidemics, from the Spanish flu of 1918-1920 to the SARS coronavirus outbreak of 2002-2004, had a limited shelf life. They burned themselves out without a vaccine in the space of a couple years. By the middle of next year, when vaccines are expected to start becoming widely available, we’ll already be a year and a half into the present episode. By the end of next year, when they would presumably be universally available, it will have been two years. Not quite too little too late, but far too late to make a big enough difference to justify the hype.
What’s more, there has been impressive progress on treatment. Over just the past few months, deaths from Covid 19 haven’t risen nearly as quickly as infections. We’re simply getting better at improving the prospects for those who are infected. This means the impact of reducing infections won’t be nearly as great as it would have been just a few months ago. Universal availability of a vaccine right now would still be very big, but that’s not what we’re looking at. This vaccine progress is good news, just not nearly as earth shaking as the level of excitement would imply. The best news by far is that, with or without a safe and effective vaccine, within twelve months time this pandemic will be in its twilight.