The COVID-19 vaccine hype cycle

We hear a lot of news about the Covid-19 vaccines being approved these days and that they will “protect” those inoculated from the disease and make them “immune”.

I am not an immunologist, but from a risk professional and behavioral perspective, what I see ahead of us is a serious phase of disillusionment after vaccination campaigns seriously get into gears around the world.

Because from what I have gleaned from the news, we are at risk of falling prey to positive outcome bias, overconfidence, and anchoring bias when we talk about “protection” and “immunity” and substituting a certain degree of protection afforded by the vaccines with total invulnerability to the virus, which we are all hoping for.

Apparently, those vaccinated will be protected from symptomatic illness and severe disease. Which sounds a lot less promising than being immune.

The studies done on the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine looked if those who had been vaccinated and did developed Covid-19 symptoms then did test positive for the virus. That means those studies had a huge “blind spot” for people who were vaccinated, still became infected but remained asymptomatic cases and could still have transmitted the virus to others. If you’re into looking it up for yourself: I t’s written clearly in the New England Journal of Medicine article on the Safety and Efficacy of the BNT162b2 mRNA Covid-19 Vaccine: “These data do not address whether vaccination prevents asymptomatic infection.”

We all want to believe in the good news of having vaccines that will make us immune from getting the virus into our system, getting sick and being infectious for others around us. But when we look carefully at the news we have about the new vaccines, that wasn’t tested in the trials.

What we do know is that those vaccinated who did get sick, got much less sick than those without the vaccine. And that’s a good thing. It means that the daily news of rising deaths from Covid-19 might be coming to an end in a matter of months.

But the months of physical distancing and mask-wearing are far from counted yet. It’s important to distinguish between what we do know and what we don’t know about the protection and immunity gained from the vaccines.

Otherwise we’re in for another roller coaster ride of hope, inflated expectations and tough disillusionment – the Gartner Hype Cycle.

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