5 things we’ve learned from first lockdowns and wish to remember

With Belgium and most European countries well into second lockdowns as COVID-19 cases rise exponentially, we thought it could be an opportune time to reflect on a few lessons learnt from the first wave.

1. Vaccines do save lives

Vaccine safety and efficacy are the subject of a long-standing debate as public confidence in vaccination remains fragile across Europe. However, the conversation seems to have evolved in the past few months with unprecedented efforts under way to rapidly develop a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine. There is also a widespread understanding that this is an essential step that will enable us all to resume a way of living similar to pre-pandemic times.

On the other hand, the WHO and UNICEF warn us of a worrying decline in the number of children receiving life-saving vaccines due to disruptions in the delivery and uptake of immunisation services caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. These disruptions threaten to reverse hard fought for progress to reach more children and adolescents with a wider range of vaccines. Once the pandemic is over, it will be important to take full stock of the impact that it has had on vaccination programmes and whether the discovery of a COVID-19 vaccine will be sufficient to restore confidence in vaccination.

This pandemic shows us how much we rely on vaccines to save lives and our economy.

2. Health disparities matter

People with lower incomes and from minority ethnic backgrounds face an increased risk of poorer outcomes when they contract COVID-19, due to a history of economic exclusion and social discrimination. The current pandemic has disproportionately affected fragile communities whose access to care and treatment has become increasingly difficult. Crowded living conditions and precarious employment situations (including increased unemployment rates) have made it more challenging for low-income families to follow prevention strategies.

Long-standing issues affecting these groups such as underlying chronic health conditions, poor living circumstances and stigma have also resulted in them being at higher risk of having untreated chronic health disorders, which in pandemic times represents an additional burden.

The current COVID-19 pandemic has not created health disparities but is certainly shining a light on them. Hopefully, it may change some of the ways we interact and support each other.

3. Healthcare deserves more

The pandemic has put the spotlight on the need for coordinated health action at EU level in times of crisis as well as on countries whose health services appeared somewhat ill-prepared. Challenges with sourcing appropriate protective equipment and ventilators at the start of the pandemic have been widely relayed in the media and are still not fully resolved.

The pandemic has brought attention to the importance of being better prepared to mitigate the risks of future health crises. But it has also helped shed some light on instrumental industries in healthcare management such as the diagnostic sector or mobile-health related companies. Both sectors have been able to provide new approaches to managing diseases in a cost-effective way. Indeed, COVID-19 in-vitro diagnostic tests have been enhanced and produced at a large scale to support the decision-making process during this pandemic. These tests have also proven to be an effective pillar for any potential coherent exit strategy in order to be able to diagnose both symptomatic and asymptomatic patients. The mobile health industry has also played an instrumental role in helping to keep patients at home to manage their chronic diseases. These sectors have been able to offer alternative solutions to patients allowing them to avoid already overcrowded hospitals.

On the one hand, the COVID-19 pandemic has globally exposed the vulnerability of healthcare systems. But on the other, it has clearly demonstrated how innovative and agile the healthcare sector has the potential of being when put under pressure.

4. Essential workers are heroes

Even our concept of heroism has evolved during this pandemic. COVID-19 might be today’s super-villain, but we no longer look for supernatural powers like flying, laser vision or bending steel. Our daily heroes have become ‘essential’ workers, health care providers, caregivers, grocery store workers, delivery drivers or bakers. Across Europe and worldwide, people clapped hands at their windows every evening to show their solidarity to these essential yet undervalued heroes. Debates on minimum wages, enhanced social protection and grassroots movements have emerged across Europe shedding the light on behind the scenes workers.

The COVID-19 pandemic has given renewed visibility to the day-to-day heroes and has helped us reflect on what ‘essential’ really means.

5. Virtual meetings work

During the past few months, both private businesses and institutions have demonstrated that working remotely and organising virtual events can be done successfully. Organisations have pushed themselves to be more creative by leveraging interactive platforms and through an increased awareness for the need to keep both employees and external stakeholders as engaged as they would be in a face-to-face environment. The current environment has also offered unexpected opportunities to the digital native generation, which has been able to shine within organisations and showcase their skills which are suddenly deemed particularly valuable.

The rapid adoption of technology for remote set-ups proves that people are open and ready to adapt a lot more easily than one would have previously expected.  

Like any other business, Incisive Health has had to quickly adapt to the new ‘normal’. With our team and clients, we have powered through these challenging times by, for example, setting-up online debates and engaging virtually with our key stakeholders. We’ve boosted our creativity in switching to full remote working. We’ve helped our clients get their messages across to policymakers in a single-focused environment. We have helped profile companies presenting their innovative solutions to address part of the current crisis to policymakers.

We’re more ready than ever to share our learnings from previous lockdowns. Get in touch with us if you would like to discuss how we can help your organisation navigate through this ever-changing environment.