So far 2021 has seen COVID-19 cases surging, with lockdown restrictions once again tightened across Europe. The good news is that we now have vaccines. The bad news is that vaccine rollout is progressing slower than many had hoped.
In the UK, as in most countries, priority for vaccination is rightly being given to the clinically vulnerable and to the elderly. NHS data for England show that 99% of fatalities have come from this group. In other words, vaccinating a group that represents just 25% of the population could prevent almost all deaths. That is not to say that others should not be offered the vaccine in time, simply that a targeted rollout can achieve a dramatic turnaround in health outcomes from a relatively small number of doses.
For the UK, this would imply that just short of 18 million people would be high priority for vaccination. The UK has a relatively young population compared to other G7 nations; countries such as Germany and Japan have higher proportions of people in the older cohorts, making their vaccination effort a substantially larger undertaking.
In the event, the UK government has targeted 14 million vaccinations by mid-February, with the goal of providing initial doses to key workers, the clinically extremely vulnerable and over-70s. To date, just under 2.5 million first doses have been administered, approximately 18% of the target group. If doses continue at the current rate of 1.9 million per week, that goal will not be reached until the end of February. Fortunately the government has consistently been increasing the daily rate of vaccinations and indicated yesterday that it is preparing to more than double the pace of the vaccination programme next week.
In the meantime, and until the spread of the disease can be brought back under control, lockdowns are likely to remain in place. For Europe, data up to December suggest that economic sentiment remained relatively robust (actually ticking up slightly) and that the economy weathered this shock better than it did the first round of lockdowns last spring.
But virus-fighting measures do have an impact on the real economy and we now expect lockdowns to both last longer and be more severe than in November. As a result, the near-term outlook has undoubtedly deteriorated, especially in Europe.
 Of course, death is not the only harm associated with COVID-19 and so-called long COVID symptoms associated with heart, lung and cognitive damage can affect many outside the elderly and clinically vulnerable group.
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