It feels incredible that we are still working through a global pandemic. The rate of infection in India has once again emerged with over 3,000 deaths in a day. It does seem like we will continue to be working through the aftermath of this pandemic for some time.
Sometimes it is helpful to look at the problem more globally. McKinsey and Company just released an article about the varied statistics and perspectives on the potential end of the pandemic and what that might mean for our global community.
This article updates our perspectives on when the coronavirus pandemic will end to reflect the latest information on vaccine rollout, variants of concern, and disease progression. In the United Kingdom and the United States, we see progress toward a transition to normalcy during the second quarter of 2021. The new wave of cases in the European Union means that a similar transition is likely to come later there, in the late second or third quarter. Improved vaccine availability makes herd immunity most likely in the third quarter for the United Kingdom and the United States and in the fourth quarter for the European Union, but risks threaten that timeline. The timeline in other countries will depend on seven crucial variables. And when herd immunity is reached, the risks will not vanish; herd immunity may prove temporary or be limited to regions in a country.
The fall in COVID-19 cases across much of the world over the past ten weeks signals a new dawn in the fight against the disease. Vaccines are proving effective and rapidly scaling, bending the curve in many geographies. This is a fragile dawn, however, with transmission and deaths still high, unequal access to vaccines, and variants of concern threatening to undo progress to date.
The trajectory of UK and US cases has enabled the beginnings of a transition toward normalcy, the first and more important of the pandemic’s two endpoints. We expect this transition to continue in the second quarter of 2021 and will likely see many aspects of social and economic life return to the pre-pandemic normal, consistent with UK Prime Minister Johnson’s staged reopening plan for the United Kingdom and US President Biden’s goal of a normal Independence Day. We are more confident in this timeline for the United Kingdom than for the United States, given that the first has already experienced a wave driven by a more infectious variant, whereas the latter could still face one. Parts of the European Union have recently faced setbacks: fewer doses in arms than in the United Kingdom or United States, a new wave of cases, and new lockdowns. A transition toward normalcy is mostly likely in Europe during the late second or third quarter of 2021. The timing will probably vary by country, depending on accelerating vaccine supplies, the impact of vaccinations on hospitalization rates, and the occurrence (or not) of new waves driven by new variants.
Herd immunity, the second endpoint, is most likely in the third quarter for the United Kingdom and the United States and in the fourth quarter for the European Union, with the difference driven by a more limited vaccine availability in the European Union. However, the risks to these timelines are real—herd immunity may not be achieved by the end of the year if vaccine hesitancy is high, if countries experience disruptions in vaccine supply, or if a variant that renders existing vaccines less effective spreads widely. And herd immunity may look different in different parts of the world, ranging from strong nationwide or regional protection to temporary or oscillating immunity to some countries not reaching herd immunity over the medium term.
The article goes on to review the developments since January 21, concerning the three geographies, assess risks, and outline what the end of the pandemic might look like.
Here is hoping that we will soon find the end of this global health crisis. It has been a devastating journey for our entire world. This article is a glimpse of what could possibly be our potential future.