Until children receive vaccinations, governments will have to make tricky decisions about whether and how to keep schools open amidst new surges. A vaccine for children aged five and above is drawing closer; on Sep. 10, Pfizer announced it would seek regulatory approval for such a vaccine soon. But until it arrives, Covid-19 will affect more children. “The delta variant is much more highly transmissible than was alpha. So, given that, you will see more children likely to get infected,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in mid-August. “A certain percentage of them will require hospitalization.”

🙅 New lockdowns will be politically difficult

Despite the surge in cases, Israel has been unwilling to impose new levels of lockdown to curb the disease. Its new prime minister, Naftali Bennett, had criticized his predecessor Benyamin Netanyahu for earlier lockdowns. If Bennett now resorted to lockdowns himself, he would risk political embarrassment. “The story would become: Netanyahu got us out of the crisis with vaccines and look at you, you’re locking down again, you screwed it up,” Shalit said.

But additionally, the public appetite for strict curbs on freedoms has dwindled. Shalit believes that some restrictions are still relatively easy to impose: “These events hosting 10,000 people or whatever, for instance—I don’t think the political cost of banning them is so high.” The government could also be stricter with its Green Pass system, which allows people into public venues only if they show a negative test result or proof of vaccination. “Why they aren’t doing it isn’t clear at all.”

The political and economic cost of new lockdowns feels even higher in a country like the US. In O’Connor’s town of Madison, just the previous weekend, “80,000 people had crammed into the stadium to see a football game,” he said. He shared his screen on Zoom and pulled up a video of the stands: people seated right next to each other, not a mask in sight.

“These people are probably thinking that they’ve been vaccinated and want to get back to normalcy, and that it’s their decision to do so, not something to be enforced by a public health authority,” O’Connor said. “And I agree with that to a large extent. But you also have kids under 12 not being vaccinated, and high levels of community transmission making schools vulnerable. So it’s a difficult choice to make.”

💉 Countries will choose boosters over lockdowns

If new lockdowns are unpalatable and yet a Covid-19 surge has to be controlled, countries that can afford to buy and dispense a round of booster shots will inevitably choose to do so. Israel started its booster campaign in late July, and Western countries like the UK and the US plan to roll out similar vaccine drives as winter nears.

Early results suggest that the booster shots are effective in tamping down infection rates. “If you look at the numbers, the antibody levels after the booster are around three times as high as they are after the second vaccine dose,” O’Connor said. But there have been no peer-reviewed studies to determine how long the booster’s immunity will last; here too, scientists can only speculate. “I’d take an even-money bet that three to six months after the booster, you’ll have a higher level of protection than after second dose,” O’Connor said. “I could be wrong about that, but I’d take the bet.”

But the West’s booster drive will—rightly—feed the debate about whether the world’s finite supply of vaccinations should be used to dispense third shots to the wealthy or first and second shots to the as-yet-unvaccinated. The World Health Organization has called for a moratorium on boosters until at least the end of 2021. This deepening of vaccine iniquity, O’Connor said, “is a very real issue. People in Israel will benefit less from a third vaccine than people who haven’t gotten any vaccine. So the net gain, for the world, is certainly going to be lower.” Whether to administer boosters or not, he said, will become a political choice as well. “I’m just glad I don’t have to make those decisions.”

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