How coronavirus is changing English

coronavirusBack in March 2020, I wrote on the language of coronavirus for this blog. A year later, and the world is, unfortunately, still in the grip of the Covid-19 pandemic. In that time, more terms have been coined, repurposed or have entered the public domain to describe various aspects of the virus (did you know that ‘viral shedding[1]’ is greatest in the afternoon?) and how governments are dealing with it.

Our December blog listed five words to look out for in 2021. The fifth of these was vaccine. With the invention of highly effective vaccines against Covid-19 in record time – Oxford/AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Sputnik, to name just a few – we have already seen a proliferation of compounds and collocations with the word vaccine. Vaccine roll-outs have begun in some countries, including here in the UK. I’m lucky to be expecting my second jab soon.

Vaccines have given us some hope of getting on top of the virus and coming out of the pandemic. They are also one argument for opening up economies that have been in lockdown. Before the vast majority in every country is vaccinated, though, vaccines alone will not be enough to stamp out the virus. While the virus still has the means of spreading, it will continue to mutate. We do not yet know to what extent each vaccine prevents the transmission of the virus.  In the space of a few months several variants have emerged, and some are thought to reduce the efficacy of the vaccines. The greatest concern is that mutations may emerge that are capable of evading the vaccines altogether.

Vaccination might have been the fast way out of the pandemic if everyone in the world could have been vaccinated at the same time. Unfortunately, that isn’t happening. Some richer countries have bought up stocks of vaccine way above what they actually need, while other countries still have none or seriously inadequate amounts, leading to accusations of ‘vaccine nationalism’ or ‘vaccine apartheid’. If vaccine boosters are needed to combat new variants of the virus, much of these initial vaccines could end up going to waste. To make vaccines more affordable, and thus accelerate distribution around the world, some organizations are calling for the waiving of vaccine patents.

‘Vaccine hesitancy’ – particularly from concerns about possible side effects – and anti-vaccine (also known as anti-vaxxer) views will also limit the uptake of vaccination, and thus leave some capacity for the virus to spread and mutate. These ‘vaccine-reluctant’ groups also complicate the discussion about how useful or fair ‘vaccine passports’ would be for ensuring the safe opening-up of the economy.

I very much hope that vaccines will turn this pandemic around throughout the world. And I very much hope a year from now I won’t be blogging about the pandemic again!

Janet Phillips is a Senior Editor in ELT Dictionaries and Reference Grammar.

[1] viral shedding Viruses reproduce inside the cells in the body of an infected person. The new viruses then leave the cells, move to different parts of the same body, and leave the body into the environment, potentially infecting more people.

Author: Oxford University Press ELT

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