One thing’s for certain: we don’t have the full picture of COVID-19 infection rates in the UK. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the UK is 3.46 million. However, recent antibody test data suggests that 1 in 10 people in the UK have already had COVID-19, which would mean we have actually had roughly 6.6 million cases. Further, studies have shown that anywhere up to 81% of COVID-19 cases are asymptomatic (therefore going undetected), suggesting that the number of people in the UK who have had COVID-19 is even greater. Sensing a theme?

The number of COVID-19 cases we have had in the UK could be 80% more than we realise, bringing the figure up to 13 million…

There is a strong case that significantly more people in the UK have been infected with COVID-19, and therefore have protective antibodies, than are represented in the data. If the majority of tests are conducted following government guidance that you should only be tested if you are exhibiting symptoms, then the confirmed 3.47 million cases only represents the 20% of people who are symptomatic. The number of COVID-19 cases we have had in the UK could be 80% more than we realise, bringing the figure up to 13 million. That’s 13 million people with infection antibodies, in addition to the 4.2 million people in the UK who have already been vaccinated. Totalling over 17 million, over a quarter of the population could be protected already. This figure is growing everyday through further infection and vaccination (due to be 15 million inoculations by the end of February). Surely this is the most compelling argument for lifting lockdown sooner rather than later.

Given the likelihood that more people than we realise are protected from COVID-19, is the current rollout plan really the right one? We must protect the vulnerable, but should we protect the vulnerable primarily based on age? The current rollout plan prioritises frontline healthcare workers and the elderly. The reality is that the elderly are generally less active. Starting by vaccinating the elderly takes only the individual into account and doesn’t take into account the individual’s role in society. 

COVID-19 is a societal issue, with everyone told to stay at home, so should we not take a societal approach to vaccine rollout?

COVID-19 is a societal issue, with everyone told to stay at home, so should we not take a societal approach to vaccine rollout? Think about it this way: it is entirely sensical that healthcare workers are first in line to receive the COVID-19 vaccine because they are the key to fighting this disease. Those who work in the hospitality sector, supermarkets, or run small businesses are the frontline staff of our economy, and these people cannot work from home. Equally, should the elderly, who can protect themselves against COVID-19 through social distancing, really be vaccinated ahead of young, people with compromised immune systems?

Every life, no matter your age, is of equal value, but with administering something like a vaccine where there is unfortunately a waiting list, there has to be a measure of utility and big-picture thinking in the approach. As I’ve mentioned, we have our economy to thank for the vaccine and our national health service (avoiding the upsetting scenes in the United States where families are crippled by unexpected COVID-19 medical bills). We should be doing our best to protect it, and a functional approach to vaccine rollout (enabling people to attend their workplace ahead of vaccinating the elderly) could be the answer.