Covid: Irish society must establish level of acceptable risk and allow young people to live

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Young people have made enormous sacrifices over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic. We have been told to give up 16 months, and counting, of our lives to prevent the spread of a virus which was highly unlikely to harm us. All in order to protect the most vulnerable and at risk in our society, particularly older people. 

We have missed major life milestones from Debs to graduations, from the first formative years of college to moving into the office as a graduate for the first time. We’ve missed a year and a half of priceless social interaction during what are supposed to be some of ‘the best years of our lives’, with the promise that this won’t be forever. Thanks to the development and approval of not one, but four highly effective EMA approved vaccines, we can go forward with confidence that this truly won’t be forever.

It’s safe to say that the vaccination programme has been a game changer in our fight against Covid. As of July 31st, 5.6 million Covid-19 vaccines have been administered in Ireland with over 85% of adults having been partially vaccinated and over 70% now fully vaccinated, achieving the Taoiseach’s target for 70% of adults to be fully vaccinated by the end of July early. 169 people are in hospital of which 23 are in ICU, there are now nearly half as many people in ICU as there are members of the National Public Health Emergency Team. 

Thanks to vaccination Covid is now a preventable disease, with fully vaccinated people far less likely to both contract and spread the virus. Those who are vaccinated but who still end up contracting the virus will be broadly protected against death and severe hospitalisation. While there is not yet enough evidence to say definitively, there are early signs that the vaccines prevent long Covid and ease the symptoms of those who suffer from it. These factors would indicate that Covid will become endemic, similar to the flu which is a non-lethal virus for which a booster shot will need to be produced on a yearly basis. 

In these circumstances, young people could be forgiven for expecting the chance to reap the benefits of the vaccination programme. We have friends we haven’t physically seen since March 2020, colleges that we haven’t set foot on for well over an entire academic year and life milestones which we’ve been told about since we’ve been born but will never experience. 

Yet, young people have still not seen a significant benefit to their lives. While older age groups can now thankfully begin to socialise safely, young people are being shamed for accounting for the bulk of Covid-19 infections. Having sacrificed so much for others, we are now told that we can’t eat or drink indoors in a pub or restaurant to protect the now-vaccinated vulnerable.

We are, however, now safe enough to serve food and drink to these same people indoors. Even as it is expected that most young people will be fully vaccinated by the end of the summer, Minister Simon Harris still suggests that large in person lectures may not return for this upcoming college semester. Young couples still face uncertainty as they try to plan their special wedding day and young fathers cannot support their partners as they give birth. All the while we see images from the UK of people our age flooding nightclubs and hear the roar of the crowd in Wembley for the Euros and remember what real life was like.

Some people may think the current restrictions are acceptable, that this is the ‘new normal’ and that we can live like this for a sustained period of time for so long as Covid-19 exists. It’s easy to hold this view when you’ve lived through most of your life milestones, settled down and are now enjoying the benefits of working remotely while trying to raise a family. 

For us young people, we have lives to live and this is not acceptable. This does not mean we want the immediate end of all restrictions; we recognise the importance of restrictions in protecting the vulnerable. If we did not, then we would not have sacrificed so much this past year and a half, and many more loved ones would not be here today.

We do however, want to know what the objective is. At what point can we decide for ourselves what is an acceptable level of risk and live as we did in February 2020. How many vaccinations, how many cases, how many hospitalisations, how many deaths? These are the defining questions of this stage of the pandemic. Questions which warrant a broad and balanced discussion across society.

We were told to flatten the curve, we did. We were told to protect the vulnerable until they were vaccinated, we did. We were told to take our vaccine when offered to us, we are doing so without hesitation. We will continue to make the sacrifices needed but do us the basic courtesy of telling us the objective.