Covid vaccine brings some muted festive cheer

Cantillon: Pfizer expects the first supplies of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine to arrive in Ireland by Saturday

As we face into a Christmas like no other there is at least the promise that we may not have to endure such a festive season again.

Rapidly rising numbers for Covid here – and the threat of an even more infectious variant lurking in Britain that further limits the ability of families to come together this year – have put a dampener on what is, for most, a time of family celebration

But even as we survey the wreckage of Christmas 2020, the decision by the European authorities to approve the first of multiple vaccine candidates here – that developed by BioNTech and Pfizer – is a timely gift to help ensure better times next year and beyond.

It’s important not to celebrate too early. A vaccine may be here, but it will be many months before enough people have been vaccinated to deliver the so-called herd immunity. Meantime, the mantra of social distance, hand hygiene and masking will remain in place.

Still, on figures presented by vaccination taskforce chairman Prof Brian MacCraith, initial inoculations could take place as early as next Monday. Pfizer expects the first supplies to arrive in Ireland by Saturday – and it might even be earlier than that as the EU moved faster than expected to approve the vaccine.

Between 1,950 and 9,750 people will get access to that first batch depending on the size of the shipment that arrives in Ireland.

Much remains to be discovered about these first vaccines – how long the protection from disease lasts, whether it just stops you getting sick or actually stops you transmitting the virus to others, how pregnant women will react to it and also children?

Already we have seen some people with severe allergic reactions respond poorly to it. That didn’t show up in trials. There will be more, hopefully none too critical.

The enduring lesson of a chastening year must be that both governments and the wider public know better how to confront future virus outbreaks and pandemics. That and a wonder at the potential of modern medicine.