Against the individualisation of COVID

A number of recent conversations have left me with the impression of an emerging common sense regarding the status of the pandemic in the United Kingdom. What these arguments shared was a suggestion that the progress of the vaccination program means that the risks of the pandemic are now a trivial matter for most people. Hence if you fall into this category then life can return to normal, as double vaccination means that the risks of infection have dropped precipitously. This frames the state as having provided a means for individuals to cope with the pandemic, with the implication that it can now withdraw from its intrusion into everyday life. It suggests the declining existential risk for a majority of the population represents a turning point in the pandemic. This final point is intuitively plausible but there are a number of obvious problems with this view, following from its implication that the virus can therefore be allowed to circulate freely:

  • A small percentage of a very large number is still a large number. The protection afforded by the vaccine will still facilitate a significant amount of death and suffering if the virus moves freely through the population.
  • It throws those who can’t have the vaccine under a bus, along those with those who will experience much lower protection from it. To some extent this includes the elderly, for whom the virus still has a significant mortality risk even with the vaccine.
  • It suggests the only concern should be the existential threat of the virus, disregarding the physical and mental trauma involved in hospitalisation and long COVID.
  • It ignores the risk that free circulation of the virus entails for mutation, including the possibility of more vaccine resistant forms which negate the premise of the argument.

It strikes me as an obvious failure of social solidarity which should be seen in terms of a normalisation of medical risk within everyday life. This has implications for the pandemic we are currently living through but also the subsequent pandemic as which, as I understand it, should be expected within our lifetimes. Furthermore, the same logic could be extended to the intensification of the climate crisis.

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