The Irish Times view on the Covid-19 response: reasons to hope

Good news on a vaccine raises optimism that this phase of the pandemic can be brought under control

A vaccine jointly developed by Pfizer and BioNTech was 90 percent effective in preventing Covid-19 infections in ongoing phase 3 trials, the companies announced on Monday. Photograph: Dominick Reuter/ AFP via Getty Images

A vaccine jointly developed by Pfizer and BioNTech was 90 percent effective in preventing Covid-19 infections in ongoing phase 3 trials, the companies announced on Monday. Photograph: Dominick Reuter/ AFP via Getty Images

 

Good news on Covid-19 has been a rare thing, but two developments in recent days give reason to hope that the world can chart a way out of this dangerous phase of the pandemic. The first is the election of Joe Biden as US president. Reckless mishandling of the crisis by the Trump administration has caused the United States to suffer far more than it needed to, with almost a quarter of a million of its citizens having already lost their lives.

Under a president who alternated between denial and self-pity over the damage the virus was causing to his re-election prospects, Trump lacked both the will and the wherewithal to handle a crisis that required mastery of detail on his part and total focus from his government. Most unforgivable were his efforts to politicise the problem, turning defiance of basic public health measures into a badge of tribal allegiance. Very many people undoubtedly died as a result.

Against that background, it was oddly striking to hear Biden yesterday remark that his approach to the crisis would be “informed by science and experts”. He moved quickly to name members of his coronavirus taskforce, recognising that this will be the defining challenge of his early presidency. America’s trauma will not end soon, but its chances of bringing the crisis under control are far greater than they were a week ago.

Further positive news came from the Pfizer, which announced that its vaccine candidate, produced with the German firm BioNTech, was more than 90 per cent effective in its phase three trial to this point. If that performance were repeated by a number of vaccine candidates, major progress could be made in taming the virus in the first half of 2021. Key questions remain unanswered. We do not know how effective the Pfizer vaccine is in shielding people from severe Covid-19, for example, and the logistical effort involved in shipping a two-dose vaccine that must be kept at a temperature of -70 degrees will raise doubts about access in poorer parts of the world. But the latest trial results are far better than expected and can give us all hope as we enter a difficult winter.

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