The race for the COVID-19 vaccine is at the peak as many countries claim their medicine to be more effective than the others. However, will the vaccine itself end the pandemic? The head of the World Health Organization (WHO), on November 16, said that a vaccine would not be enough to end the COVID- 19 pandemic.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO, said that the vaccine would complement the other existing tools and not replace them. He added that the vaccine would not end the pandemic.
It is nearly a year since the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, but is still raging with infections soaring past 59.2 million and claiming more than 1.4 million lives. Some countries were quite fast in reacting and combating, while others are still fighting a battle with the virus. Since the outbreak, there have been several potential coronavirus vaccines reporting promising results in trials, but none have been authorized for use in the US or Europe yet.
Vaccine development and Counter Questions
In November, two vaccines Pfizer and Moderna brought out extremely effective results, but there are still many unanswered questions. Many experts have brought out concerns about whether the vaccine would stop the transmission of the infection and how long will the vaccine effect last.
Michael Mina, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, told that it is possible that there could be an early immune response to the vaccine that does not last. He said that the body might be making antibodies that later die.
“We may be measuring the effects of an impressive front line army that spins up in response to the vaccine – but then we should be careful not to assume the same efficacy persists in holding that line after most of the troops disappear,” Mina tweeted.
Dr Barry Bloom, the former dean of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, in a press conference held on November 16, said that the results of the trials are much better than expected by many experts.
Even though experts say that as trials continue, that efficacy is likely to fall as more COVID-19 cases are confirmed among participants.
Arrival of Vaccine
The vast majority of people are still at the risk of the coronavirus, and the vaccine trials is a ray of hope, for bringing the pandemic under control if not ending it. Scientists and vaccine developers have mentioned that a handful of the vaccine could be available by the end of 2020.
In India, the final trials of the local COVID-19 vaccine have begun. Health Minister, Harsh Vardhan, said that the final trials for the vaccine would end in a month or two. Meanwhile, Russia, the trusted manufacturer of Sputnik V, claimed that its cost would be less than that of USA’s Pfizer and Moderna.
While, the European Medicines Agency has told that once they get the authorization, the vaccines would be available by year-end or the beginning of 2021.
Chief Scientist of WHO, Dr Soumya Swaminathan, said that the first half of 2021 would be a period in which only limited doses of the vaccines will be available. Due to this, it is said that the vaccine would be first available to health workers’ and older adults.
How long before COVID vaccine stops pandemic?
Depending on how effective the COVID-19 vaccine is and how the distribution for it is done, the herd immunity will be achieved. That is, it has to reach a point when the whole population gets immune to the infection, hence preventing its spread.
However, there is no sign to prove that the vaccine would bring an end to the pandemic ultimately. Dr Kate O’Brien, Director of Immunization at WHO, told in the conference on November 16, “We have plenty of vaccines that are life-saving vaccines, measles is an example of that, a highly efficacious vaccine over 95 per cent efficiency and yet we still have measles outbreaks.”
Dr Barry Bloom, who is also a research professor at Harvard, says: “There will still be lots of people that are not vaccinated in the first six months or year, and they have the capacity to transmit infection.”
It means that people, even those who are vaccinated, will need to continue wearing masks and follow social distancing norms to prevent high levels of virus in the community, he added.
Responding to the doubts raised regarding the herd immunity, Dr Bloom said that higher the effectiveness of the vaccine, smaller the number of people would need to get the vaccine to achieve herd immunity.
Challenges associated with distribution of vaccine:
One of the main challenges is to manufacture and distribute the vaccine globally. Several existing vaccine manufacturing firms normally immunize children and adolescents, but now they will also have a look at adults who are at serious risk of the pandemic.
The whole process of making sure everyone gets the required dose of the vaccine and at the right time is a major challenge. It means that for many low- middle-income countries, a one-dose- shot that provides immunity and does not require any booster would be used.
Reduced access to the vaccine distribution could also happen in areas that lack human resource.
Another factor that impacts the distribution is how the vaccine would be stored because it has to be kept very carefully at a particular temperature.
One advantage of the Moderna vaccine candidate, for instance, experts say, is that it does not need to be stored at ultra-cold temperatures, and can be stored in a regular refrigerator for 30 days, making distribution easier.
There are concerns regarding black marketing or theft of the vaccine. Since the initial supply would be limited, experts worry that there could be malpractices associated with its distribution.
Many countries lack well- functioning and integrated medicines regulatory system, making it more likely for black marketing of vaccine to occur. The impact of it could be devastating, because it will bring in scepticism and distrust among the people about the virus. Thus, the current crisis in the pandemic could get worsened.
There are a lot of concerns associated with the COVID-19 vaccine and its distribution. It is crucial to overcome these challenges, which itself is a tough task. Only time will tell how the vaccine distribution is going to happen and how practical is its use in reducing or preventing the pandemic from spreading.