“Where’s the vaccine mandate they promised us?” whines Daniel Brössler, reporter for the Süddeutsche Zeitung, disappointed because yesterday’s Corona summit of German minister presidents returned nothing but some adjustments to quarantine and sharpened testing rules. The double vaccinated will now have to submit negative tests if they want to eat at restaurants. Markus Söder, lockdown- and vaccine mandate-loving minister president of Bavaria, criticised even these milquetoast restrictions, with some bluster about how he’d already taken a hard line against bars and discos. This is after leading German Corona astrologer, Christian Drosten, used his state media podcast to suggest that Germany should start tolerating some of degree of SARS-2 transmission, and that breakthrough infections among the vaccinated should be considered normal. Such statements, which almost surely reflect sentiments within the coalition government, destroy most of the rationale for ongoing restrictions and vaccine mandates.
Meanwhile, in Austria, the thrice-vaccinated chancellor Karl Nehammer has tested positive for Corona. The news comes as Austria announces they will delay implementing their vaccine mandate by two months. It will now take effect in April, if at all. Gerald Gartlehner, an epidemiologist and sometime governmental adviser, suggested that mandates (or at least their enforcement) might have to be re-evaluated in light of Omicron and the widespread immunity the new variant will elicit across the Austrian population. There is every reason to think that Austria will be past the peak of the Omicron wave in April, and that a majority of Austrians with have SARS-2 antibodies by then.
In the United States, former Biden advisers have published a series of editorials in the Journal of the American Medical Association, arguing that it is time to normalise containment and begin managing SARS-2 as one of various seasonal respiratory infections.
It is obvious that we are at a turning point, even if everyone has yet to realise it – even if France is sharpening vaccine requirements, even if Italy has imposed vaccine mandates for everyone over 50, and even if Canada is for the moment determined to remain a prison state. This is the first time since the Floyd riots in America, that major political leaders and public health authorities have said that preventing Corona can no longer be the highest goal of western society.
It is a commonplace observation, but a true one: Since the vaccines began to fail in August, the vaccinators have been progressing through the proverbial five stages of grief. They spent a lot of time in denial, before becoming very angry and punitive. Then they began bargaining, hoping that SARS-2 would go away after four doses, or after five, with just the right dosing intervals, with a return to double masking, with child vaccinations. Now they appear to be drifting finally into depression and acceptance. They have realised, not a second too soon, that there is nothing to be done.
Omicron is a highly contagious variant with immune escape features. The vaccinators can vaccinate all they want, but their vaccines will not stop the waves of infection to come. A lot of the hyperbolic rhetoric about Corona was put about in the hopes that the most everyone wouldn’t be infected. They thought they could terrify people for a few years, vaccinate them, and harvest their gratitude for saving them from the worst respiratory virus since SARS. Now, though, it it is clear that everyone will have personal experience with Corona infection, whether or not they are vaccinated. This will destroy popular faith in measures, it will erode confidence in the vaccines, and it will do away with fear of the virus. Maybe a few people somewhere will still support containment, after two years of heavy restrictions, mandated vaccinations, and personal experience with infection, but I doubt there will be very many of them. It’s the beginning of the end.