As for APSA, my colleague Dan Nexon has a post at Duck of Minerva on whether in-person conferences are really necessary given that we can do virtual conferences now. He and his friends are wondering whether the APSA event is worth it: “What it comes down to, I think, is that in-person conferences — especially large in-person conferences — seem like a lot of effort. Especially given that the online panel experience is at least acceptable. In some ways, it’s better. The transaction costs are certainly much lower.”
There is obviously no single correct answer to these questions. They are a function of individual tastes and preferences, as well as one’s attitude toward risk. The hard-working staff here at Spoiler Alerts, however, is very much looking forward to any kind of in-person academic interaction, be it in a classroom or a conference.
Why? Let’s start with the risks. If I am reading studies such as this one correctly, the two doses of mRNA vaccine coursing through my veins are pretty gosh-darn effective against even the delta variant of covid-19 (it is worth remembering that 88 percent effectiveness is unprecedentedly high compared with vaccines for other diseases). The herd immunity effect also carries greater weight in regions — such as New England — that have full vaccination rates approaching 70 percent. That will also hold for other settings with high vaccination rates, such as my classroom or a conference of political scientists. The vaccine is particularly effective in protecting people against severe illness or death.
None of this is to say that the risk of fully vaccinated folks catching the coronavirus is zero. But Slate’s Susan Matthews, in assessing the risks for vaccinated folks of catching the virus now, put it well: “If you are fully vaccinated, avoiding a ‘mild’ case of COVID, even if it sucks, might not actually be as important as you think … in the end, a lot of people are going to end up boosting their immunity by suffering through a mild case of COVID. So no one should feel that bad about getting sick after they’re vaxxed. What matters is getting the order right.”
Given my demographic profile, my risks of getting a severe case of covid are nonzero. But they are low enough to stop preventing me from doing my job and enjoying my life. And, dear God, do I miss doing my job properly. Holding classes in person is fun and intellectually stimulating. Seeing colleagues in person is superior to seeing them on a Zoom screen. There are serendipities that come with in-person interactions that virtual exchanges cannot replace.
The delta variant has caused me to update my expectations a bit. I recognize that there is a possibility of contracting the coronavirus if I continue to do things like go out to restaurants, attend conferences and teach people in person. I will probably be a bit more vigilant in wearing masks in large enclosed public places. But as someone who is fully vaccinated (and, to be clear, not living with unvaccinated children), that prospect feels the same as it did when there was a nasty influenza strain in a particular winter.
At some point, life must be lived.