Joy and anxiety as vaccine jabs start today

Relief beyond belief: People celebrating VE Day in 1945 (left) and V Day in 2020.

Are we all ready to go back to social life? As the world gears up for mass vaccination programmes, a return to normality is in sight. But some are in two minds about the prospect.

First thing this morning, in a care home, an elderly lady bared her arm. Beside her, a paramedic was preparing a hypodermic syringe containing a dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. Though she had had many vaccinations in her life, none seemed more important than this one. After a long separation from her family, she could look forward to their company again. She smiled as she waited for the jab.

Care-home residents and workers are top of the list in Britain’s Covid-19 vaccination programme, which has started today. V Day (short for Vaccine Day) is being compared to VE (Victory in Europe) Day at the end of World War Two, which saw unparalleled celebrations. The Queen is expected to have a vaccination – but will wait her turn.

So far, the government has ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine – enough to vaccinate 20 million people. It is hoped that this – together with other vaccines, such as the one developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca – will be enough to end the pandemic.

But not everyone is rejoicing. Many have found advantages in the quieter pace at which the coronavirus has forced us to live our lives, and have mixed feelings about the prospect of going back to normal.

“There are so many things to run towards gladly,” wrote Emma Brockes in The Guardian: “being able to travel and see my family again; simple pleasures such as meeting friends for a drink… But then beneath all that, something else that feels vaguely like dread.”

Brockes lists cancelled meetings, not having to travel for work and “a daily alibi for not having a shower” among the pluses of lockdown. In years to come, she predicts, “This period will appear outlandish, absurd, and for that reason alone subject to enormous nostalgia – not because what has happened was good, but because it was singular.”

Some people who survived World War Two have similar feelings about that phase of their lives. Fans of Joseph Heller’s anti-war novel Catch-22 were surprised by the discovery of a letter which revealed that the author actually felt positive about his time in the US Air Force.

“In truth, I enjoyed it,” he wrote to an academic, “and so did just about everyone else I served with, in training and even in combat. I was young, it was adventurous, there was much hoopla and glamour… There was the prospect of travel and a general feeling of a more exciting and eventful period ahead… more freedom than I enjoyed in the long years afterwards."

Writing in the Sunday Times, India Knight has speculated that the pandemic may have brought about a general shift in consciousness. Human beings, she argued, developed as social animals because it was necessary for our survival – but it may be that that time has passed.

“Perhaps we are in the process of turning into antisocial animals, not because we hate people or going out, but because so much of going out involves doing things or seeing people that we can secretly take or leave.”

Are we all ready to go back to social life?

Needless effort

Some say, no: dealing with a lot of other people requires an effort, and the longer you go without doing it, the more challenging it becomes. Lockdown has made us realise that going out is often more trouble than it is worth. Why dress up and undertake a journey to meet people you may not like, when you can stay at home with your loved ones or just meet up with a couple of your closest friends?

Others argue that humans are instinctively sociable: we need the company of others, whether we like them or not, to stimulate us and expose us to new ideas. Living under lockdown and in restrictive bubbles has been a nightmare for many, and even those who have found an upside to it are starting to feel that they have had enough. The sooner mass vaccinations are carried out the better.

You Decide

  1. Was it hypocritical of Joseph Heller to write a book condemning war after his own enjoyment of it?
  2. Should vaccination programmes prioritise those who are most vulnerable or those who are most useful to society?

Activities

  1. Make a list of activities you take part in with other people outside your home. Mark them each out of 10 for (a) enjoyment and (b) effort. Then divide (a) by (b) to see which has the best enjoyment-to-effort ratio.
  2. After the end of World War Two, some Japanese soldiers continued hiding out for years as if it were still going on. Write a story about someone who is still observing Covid-19 restrictions in 2030.

Some People Say...

“Normal is an illusion. What is normal for the spider is chaos for the fly.”

Charles Addams (1912 - 1988), American cartoonist

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is generally agreed that people found it hard to readjust to normal life after World War Two for a variety of reasons. Many were wounded or traumatised; others had experienced levels of excitement and responsibility they would never have again. Women who had taken over men’s jobs found themselves unemployed when the soldiers came back. Children who had been evacuated to the countryside were sometimes reluctant to return to city life.
What do we not know?
One main area of debate is around how many people will agree to be vaccinated. It is thought that from 65% to 80% of the population needs to be treated before community protection is achieved. In the UK, 75% of people surveyed recently said they were likely to have a jab; the figure for Italy was 78%, for Germany 67%, for the US 66% and for France 54%.

Word Watch

Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine
The vaccine is believed to be 95% effective, but it is difficult to transport as it needs to be kept at a temperature of -70C.
VE
The day of Germany’s unconditional surrender, 8 May 1945. VJ Day, marking Japan’s surrender, came on 15 August.
Alibi
An excuse. In law it is a reason why someone cannot be held responsible for a crime. For example, if they can prove they were doing something else when it took place. It comes from the Latin for “somewhere else”.
Nostalgia
An attachment to the past, combining pleasure with sadness. It is a combination of two Greek words, one meaning “homecoming” and the other “ache”.
Joseph Heller
The American author started Catch-22 eight years after the end of the war, and took eight years to complete it. His next most famous novel was Something Happened.
Catch-22
A paradoxical situation from which you cannot escape. In Heller’s novel, an airman can only get out of flying dangerous missions if he is found to be mad. But first he must request a medical evaluation – and requesting one shows that he must be sane.
Speculated
Considered the idea. In finance, to speculate is to invest in something which may be risky.

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