Listen: How Badly Is Vaccination Going?

Okay, normal-ish this summer. Do we have any understanding of what happens between now and normal-ish, or is it really hard to say? Are there just too many variables to say things will be better in X state or for X type of person by March or April?

For the high-risk pools and the high-potential infection pools—that’s your first responders, teachers, etc.—I think life will be very different. [Vaccination] can happen relatively quickly so long as we keep up manufacturing and supply, but each state is going to be different.

Hamblin: Yeah, people are waiting overnight outside pharmacies to get it in one state, and in other states, there are first responders who don’t have it yet.

Kayyem: Right, and I think a new administration will tighten that up. We’ve gotten nothing from this president on the rollout.

Wells: But since it’s being driven by the states, how much does the federal government matter? How much is a new administration going to be able to change?

Kayyem: A lot, and relatively quickly. In crisis management, we say: The locals execute, the states coordinate, and the federal government supports. And that support is cash—to pay people, to train volunteers … Lots of people want to help, but all of the infrastructure costs money. And so that’s what you’re going to see. And that can move relatively quickly.

Wells: Craig, is this helpful? Does this answer your question?

Listener Craig: It definitely sounds like the answer is: Summer is when we can expect things to get better. For my personal situation, that may be too long. And so it’s telling me maybe that there’s not much of a difference between January or February or March.

Kayyem: Yeah, don’t think of it as a light switch though. So when I say summer as normal-ish, I mean that you’re going to feel like it’s 2019 in many ways. You will go to restaurants. If you have the vaccine, we’re going to have ID systems—apps or cards that show that you’re protected. I think between March and June, as more people get vaccinated and we start to get towards herd immunity, [we’ll see a rolling recovery]. Life will feel different in the post-winter phase.

Craig: So my father was recently diagnosed with late-stage cancer. His prognosis is somewhat uncertain, but not particularly promising … I don’t feel like I can wait until even May. Visiting him in March versus now—you’re telling me there will be a progression and the risks will be lower. The more time I can wait, probably, the better the pandemic will be?

Hamblin: Yes, [things] should be getting better. The vaccines are going to be widespread. But if people start to get complacent, if we don’t wear masks and distance, we could still see rates rising. And if your family is outside of that pool of available vaccinations, you don’t want to travel in February if [case] rates are actually higher then. So there are variables here.

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