|Norn Iron fans return to Windsor Park
In what has been the most unusual season of living memory in English football, more good news has emerged this morning with Astra Zeneca's announcement that they also have a vaccine that appears effective in preventing Covid-19 infection.
The company have revealed that results from their phase 3 trial indicate between 70 and 90% effectiveness in protecting against Coronavirus infection. This follows from similarly positive results released in recent weeks for vaccines created by Moderna and Pfizer, all of which suggests that the battle against Covid-19 has changed from defensive retreat to attack.
Despite this good news there remain unanswered questions regarding the duration of immunity from vaccines and whether in addition to preventing Covid-19 illness whether they also prevent those in contact with the virus from spreading it to others. This latter issue is crucial to determining how rapidly we can exit from social distancing restrictions and, of course, gatherings such as football matches.
The issue of safety is also important as it will determine uptake of the vaccine by the general public, which is key to establishing herd immunity. Its worth noting that trials to date provide safety data on sizeable numbers (albeit short term) whilst effectiveness data is based upon the smaller numbers who actually become infected by the virus.
All in all things are really looking up but what about actually getting to football matches again? The FA and government have been having talks about this issue and how things might change when the current lockdown ends in early December.
In the meantime, Northern Ireland trialled reduced fan attendance when they allowed just over 1000 fans attend their recent international against Slovakia at Windsor Park. To date, this seems to have been a success as fans adhered to social distancing and created a decent atmosphere within the stadium despite their small numbers.
So what does this mean for West Ham fans? Realistically, widespread vaccination will not happen until a few months into 2021 and in the meantime we will learn more about the degree and duration of immunity that the vaccines provide.
While some fans are chomping at the bit to get back into stadia, any fans with heghtened vulnerability to severe Covid illness would be best to stay patient - although distancing within the stadium can be achieved, the bigger problems will relate to congregation of fans on the way in and out of matches and its likely that food and drink will not be part of the matchday experience for some time to come.
One fascinating development will be that reduced numbers of fans at matches will allow for much greater clarity in terms of what individuals are actually saying - as the clearly audible nature of Kevin De Bruyne's expletive-ridden outbursts at the weekend demonstrated. That should make for some amusement but we can expect stadium managers to try to dilute any outpourings with fake fan noise!
Bottom line: the boffins have really risen to the challenge but let's be patient - let the younger folk trial the initial phase of return while the veterans amongst us should observe caution.
Sadly, for the VWH crew, our matchday experience involves flights from Ireland which brings a whole additional layer of risk with many reports suggesting that air travel is best avoided until the pandemic is under much better control.