Around the world, more than 3.5 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines have been administered. Nonetheless, many countries have persistently high rates of infection, even in areas with leading inoculation campaigns.
In the UK, for example, almost 55,000 people tested positive on Saturday. While vaccines have made hospital admissions and mortality rates much lower than in previous waves, these high numbers show how Covid-19 can still pose a significant threat to a country's health system and population if reopening happens too hastily.
Pandemics are not won with a single scientific discovery. Finding vaccines might have been a significant milestone that made us safer, but they were only ever one part of the plan to fight Covid-19.
On Saturday, the campaign against the virus was given a boost by good news outside the realm of vaccine technology. Data from 6,175 Covid-19 patients in the UAE revealed that a new antiviral drug, Sotrovimab, appears to be 100 per cent successful in stopping deaths from the virus and 99 per cent effective in preventing admissions to intensive care. Particularly reassuring is the fact that more than half of all recipients were above the age of 50 and almost all had accompanying medical issues, such as cancer, heart disease or diabetes.
Medics can now have confidence in a new drug that prevents the tragedy of death from Covid-19. On a wider scale, Sotrovimab can also protect entire healthcare systems, particularly intensive care wards, from becoming overwhelmed. In March, a study published in the International Journal for Quality in Health Care found that the typical hospital stay in Germany for a Covid-19 fatality was between 5-19 days, a major burden on any facility's capacity. Reducing such stays on wards for the most ill patients throws struggling doctors a lifeline.
There is one crucial ingredient that secured the discovery of Sotrovimab: time. The UAE received its shipment in mid-June – one of the first worldwide – well over a year since the country recorded its first case. And with more time, more such discoveries will follow.
This is precisely why safety measures must be kept in place. With each month that passes, new drugs, vaccines, behavioural measures and treatment methods will be found by researchers who are learning more about the virus. This is the assessment authorities in Abu Dhabi have made, maintaining a certain level of security since the beginning of the pandemic and announcing last week new measures to keep the public safe.
Lifting restrictions too early could fuel new, more vaccine-resistant variants, potentially undoing the benefits of the progress medics and governments have made. And as more and more people recover from the virus, doctors are learning more about the danger posed by lingering complications such as Long Covid. A study in Abu Dhabi found that eight per cent of people infected with the virus might end up with more enduring complications. Another study, this time in the UK, found as many as 200 symptoms associated with the condition, which range from fatigue to hallucinations.
The road ahead to end this pandemic is still long. Covid-19 has given us few certainties. We should celebrate results that show 100 per cent efficacy in Sotrovimab preventing death. We must also remember another certainty: time and discipline will get us out of this pandemic.