Will the vaccine return the profession to normal?
The Imprudent Accountant takes a look at when the vaccine might make a real difference to our daily lives.
I can’t imagine that anybody regards the current state of affairs as normal. Most of us are now pinning our hopes on vaccinations to rewind the clock to the heady days of last winter when life was good and business booming.
Those running practices will have different views about what it will take to get back to a new normal. Office occupancy levels might be far lower than the past but we can at least imagine the joys of meeting and entertaining clients again.
Before that, with a new variant of an old virus running rampant, most of us will only too happy to barricade the doors and wait until the rate with which we have all become so familiar moves back well below one.
Looking further ahead, the obvious saviour is going to be a combination of a number of vaccines from around the world, primarily in this country the Oxford/AstraZeneca version.
The big question is: when? Is it reasonable to accept blithe statements from Health Secretary Matt Hancock that the majority of those who need inoculations will have them by spring, ie in three months’ time?
Surely, they hail from the same school as the regular blustering prognostications issued by a Prime Minister who assured us that everything would be back to normal within 12 weeks, then all over by Christmas.
For the politicians to be proved right, the goal will be to inoculate 30 million people by the summer. This, combined with the unproven but likely immunity for those that have recently been infected, would make a material difference.
The problem is that, allowing for inevitable wastage, starting today the projected rate needs to be approximately 3 million per week. To me, that is a very big ask.
Even that conveniently ignores an AstraZeneca efficacy rate that may only be 60%-70%. I am an accountant not a scientist but presume that this means 1/3 of recipients will think that they are immune but be wrong – not good news in an office environment.
I thought that the obvious way forward would be to try an online vaccine calculator, which allows users to insert their own parameters. As the model was fatally flawed, assuming that nobody would ever get a second dose, the producers of the app had better remain anonymous.
I know that the government’s “ambition” is 2 million inoculations a week but we have learned the hard way that this devalued word has come to mean “spin that will never be achieved”. Therefore, my starting point was to take the government’s expectation of achieving 1 million inoculations a week, which seems more plausible.
I have also assumed that the number of people who do not wish to be inoculated will cancel out appointments that fail for various reasons, for example someone failing to turn up, the person due to deliver the vaccine being unwell or administrative error.
To add a degree of unexpected novelty, the government’s latest U-turn means that initially only one dose is to be delivered rather than two, which seems like more spin. I have been wondering whether anyone in authority has worked out that the latest unsettling and untested U-turn provides nothing more than a brief timing difference which will unwind completely within 24 weeks and, as such, is a political red herring?
On the assumptions above, approximately 13 million people will be inoculated by 30 June. Looking at the priority list, the 13 millionth person lies in the group covering ages 70 to 74 and the clinically extremely vulnerable.
Sadly, this means that almost nobody working in an accountancy practice will receive their vaccination in the first six months of 2021. The results for our practices are stark.
To keep things simple, I tried looking at what we might think of as senior partners, senior managers and junior staff members ie ages 60, 40 and 20 and then took an average from each range.
60-year-olds can expect to receive their inoculations in January 2022, while both 40-year-olds and 20-year-olds will have to wait until about October 2022.
Just in case that does not seem bad enough, the duration of vaccine efficacy remains a mystery. If this is one year, which is as good an estimate as any, it will be necessary to give the second round to the extremely vulnerable before anybody working in an accountancy practice (or pretty much any other business) gets on to the conveyor belt.
We must all live in hope and I can’t wait to see how all of this pans out in practice but, with all due respect, the idea that we will be back to any kind of new normal by the spring seems to be the stuff of fantasy.
Since the new norm for the foreseeable future is the same old, it might be just as well that we have all got used to homeworking.