In this excerpt from her interview with Democracy Now, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Laurie Garrett says her most optimistic estimate is that the COVID-19 pandemic will be over in about 36 months. Her description of the complexity of developing a vaccine for most of the over 7 billion humans on planet Earth is very realistic and sobering:
AMY GOODMAN: … Laurie, in an interview you did with The New York Times, headlined “She Predicted the Coronavirus. What Does She Foresee Next?” you said that you see that the pandemic goes on for like 36 months. I think people are cringing all over who are hearing this right now. But if you can say — lay out the scenario. And what exactly does that mean? Do you stay in your home for that amount of time? What would be the most logical, safe reopening, if that can happen, and also dealing with this pandemic? Why do you say 36 months?
LAURIE GARRETT: Well, 36 months is my best-case scenario. Worst case is that it becomes a new permanent feature on the landscape for generations to come.
I think we have to, first of all, put aside this image of a wave, as a uniform tsunami wave coming across — you know, boom, boom, boom, boom, everybody gets hit at once, we all are in lockdown, and then the wave is gone, and now we can come out and hit the beach. It’s not like that. If you haven’t been paying attention, it’s already not a single isolated wave. Parts of the country are starting to get their first cases. Other parts of the country are starting to have a downturn, such as here in New York, where our horrible, horrible epidemic is beginning to come down.
And this is how it’s going to be for months and months to come — sporadic outbreaks here, there, moving towards the Southern Hemisphere, coming back to the Northern Hemisphere, different parts of the world hit at different times. And the movement of humanity is going to be the movement of virus. So, as people come out of not just lockdown in their homes, but out of their countries and back on airplanes, out of sort of trying to operate business via Zoom into business via personal contact, as the supply chains try to restore full-scale operation with globalized distribution, and that means globalized human movement, then we’re going to once again have sporadic outbreaks. So, it’s Italy today. It’s Portugal tomorrow. It’s Albania next week. It’s Rio de Janeiro two weeks later, and so on and so forth. And this is going to go on for a very long time.
Meanwhile, let’s say — my 36-month scenario is if we have very good luck on a vaccine. So, let us pretend that we actually do come up with a very effective vaccine, totally safe, and we have it, through the first stage of development and human testing, before the middle of this summer. And it actually, miraculously, is a vaccine that, number one, can be used in a single dose, no booster required; number two, you don’t have to use syringes, it can be administered nasally, orally or with a patch, so we don’t have to worry about the supply chain on syringes and disposal, safe disposal; number three, it doesn’t need to be refrigerated, so you don’t have to worry about how are you going to use it in countries without electricity and refrigerators; and, number four, it can be mass-produced easily, it’s not terribly difficult to make, there aren’t huge contamination problems, and it’s possible to rev up for production of hundreds of millions of doses right away.
So, then, by the end of 2020, we would be in large-scale clinical trials. By early 2021, if those all miraculously turned out to have no side effects and be just super effective — and we have to figure out how we’re going to determine that something is super effective; you know, you don’t want to deliberately infect people with COVID, so what’s the scheme there? — then, all right, now we have a vaccine. Groovy.
Who has it? Who’s making it? Where are the factories? And who’s going to get it? Well, obviously, it’s going to go to the rich countries first. And it’s going to the country that’s making it first. So, if China beats everybody to the mark, then Chinese will get vaccinated. That’s 1.4 billion people. That’s a lot of doses to manufacture before anybody else in the world gets vaccine. If it’s here, you know, we’re going to make 300 million doses. It’s going to be Americans first. Then we’ll help our Canadian friends, you know? And probably bottom of our list will be Mexico. And this sort of scenario will play out.
But, meanwhile, it’s going to cost money. People are going to want to make a profit off of it. There’s going to be patent disputes. There’s going to be all sorts of international distribution issues that will get in the way. And this epidemic will keep circulating and keep popping up all over the world, and we won’t have a campaign for actually getting 7.5 billion human beings vaccinated. And without vaccinating 7.5 billion human beings, we will continue to have COVID in the world. And if there’s any frailty in this herd immunity and in this vaccine protection that we’ve built, then we’ll have waves of it coming back over and over and over again for years to come. And I see no indication of a mass vaccination campaign coming under gear that would be the largest in the history of humanity, would dwarf what we did with smallpox.
Read full interview here:
Laurie Garrett is the only writer ever to have been awarded all three of the Big “Ps” of journalism: the Peabody, the Polk, and the Pulitzer.
LATEST BOOK: I HEARD THE SIRENS SCREAM: How Americans Responded to the 9/11 and Anthrax Attacks, available exclusively as an e-book. WEBSITE: Visit www.lauriegarrett.co