I have been called a Debbie Downer, a party pooper and worse when I say the COVID-19 (C19) vaccines won’t be the Wonder Woman of the meetings industry we want it to be. I’m not being pessimistic. Just realistic. And the following is merely my opinion. It’s just that we’re so over C19 and so done with Zoom and have quarantine fatigue so badly, we want the C19 vaccines to be the answer. And it might. But not right away. Not in 2021 (at least not for most of it).
Here’s why. There are too many variables. Yes, the trials of the different vaccines seem very promising, one claiming 95% effectiveness, in a test of 44,000 people. Another with evidence of 94% effectiveness, with a group of 30,000. However, we don’t’ know really how effective it’ll be when the group is over 300,000,000 subjects and those subjects have their own set of variables (health, allergies, medicines, housing, etc.).
Those reported rates of efficacy in the trials are based on how many of those subjects got C19 and then how many of those infected subjects were given the vaccine as opposed to a placebo and when you begin to look into the numbers, the effectiveness is based on a tiny figure (and that’s the simple explanation). For comparison, your basic annual flu shot is only about 60% effective.
Then you have the challenge of distribution times two, because the vaccines won’t be just one dose and done. Both Pfizer and Moderna are two-dose injections. We’ll need to find out how long between inoculations (I think I read it’ll be 30 days?) and what happens if you don’t get the second dose or don’t get it when you’re supposed to. Do you start over? Or are you just out of luck? Or do you just hope your first shot is effective enough? News sources say it will be free and available to anyone who wants it. That’s great. Think of the logistics to give shots to some 300,000,000 people. I don’t envy that planner.
What about side effects? Do we know what those will be, if any? By most news accounts, the subjects in the tests didn’t suffer from any. But is that reflective of what side effects 300,000,000 people might or might not get? The initial injection itself could cause fever, soreness, aches and more. Can you see the crowds panicking, a day or two after their initial shot, thinking they’re now sick when it might be basic vaccination reaction?
None of this includes the anti-vaccers or the conspiracy theorists, who believe the vaccine was rushed or rigged or fake. If people are afraid of the vaccine then how do we get them vaccinated, so as to protect the rest of us?
As you can see, there are still plenty of unknowns with treatment for C19. So how do we plan meetings in 2021? We plan them like we did in 2020. A mix of online, in-person and hybrid, using all the C19 protocols we know how to use and know are effective. Unless you have the authority and/or the resources to require or administer vaccinations for each attendee at your onsite event, the alternative is to plan as if we don’t have a vaccine. Not until we see it work and start to beat C19. And we might not see that until we’re most of the way through 2021.
All that being said, I’m doing my best not to be a Debbie Downer. I’m optimistic and hopeful the C19 vaccine will work. Until then, I’ll continue to do what I can to protect my meeting attendees and yours.