- James Gallagher
- BBC Health and Science Correspondent
7 hours ago
A group of prominent scientists has warned that even an effective Coronavirus vaccine will not return life to normal in the spring.
The vaccine is often seen as the “Holy Grail” that will end a pandemic.
But a research report from the Royal Society said we need to be “realistic” about what and when a vaccine can achieve.
The researchers said the restrictions may need to be “gradually eased” because it may take up to a year for the vaccine to be deployed.
More than 200 vaccines are being developed to prevent the virus by scientists around the world in a process that is happening at an unprecedented speed.
“The vaccine provides great hope for ending the epidemic, but we know that the history of vaccine development is full of many failures,” said Dr. Fiona Cooley, from the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London.
There is optimism, including from scientific advisers to the UK government, that some people may get a vaccine this year and that universal vaccination may begin early next year.
However, the Royal Society report warns that it will be a long process.
Professor Nilai Shah, Head of Chemical Engineering Department at Imperial College London, said: “Even when a vaccine is available, it does not mean that within one month everyone will be vaccinated, we are talking about six months and nine months… a year.”
“The question of suddenly returning to normal life in March is not on the table,” he added.
The report said there were still “enormous” challenges ahead.
Some of the experimental methods that are being used – such as RNA vaccines – have not been mass produced before.
There are questions about raw materials – for both the vaccine and glass bottles – and refrigerator capacity, as some vaccines need to be stored below 80 degrees Celsius.
Professor Shah estimates that the vaccination of people should take place at a rate ten times faster than the annual flu campaign and would be a full-time job for up to 30,000 trained employees.
“I’m concerned, is there enough thinking in the whole system?” He says.
Data from early trials indicated that vaccines trigger an immune response, but studies have not yet shown whether this is sufficient to provide full protection or reduce symptoms of the Coronavirus.
Professor Charles Bingham, Head of Immunology at Imperial College London, said: “We simply do not know when an effective vaccine will be available, how effective it will be and of course, crucially, how quickly it will be distributed.
“Even if it is effective, it is unlikely that we will be able to return to normal completely, so there will be a gradient scale, even after adopting a vaccine that we know is effective … and we will have to gradually reduce some of the other instances of intervention.”
Many questions that will dictate the vaccination strategy remain unanswered, such as:
- Will one dose be enough or will boosters be needed?
- Will the vaccine work well for elderly people with an aging immune system?
The researchers warned that the long-standing issue of immunity will take some time to be answered, and we still do not know whether people need to be vaccinated every two years or whether a single dose will do the trick.
Commenting on the study, Dr. Andrew Preston from the University of “Bath” said: “It is clear that the vaccine has been portrayed as a magic bullet and that in the end it will be our salvation, but it may not be an immediate process.”
He said there would be a need to discuss whether “vaccine passports” were necessary to ensure that people coming into the country were immunized.
Dr. Preston warned that the reluctance to take vaccines appears to be a growing problem that has become within the ideologies of opposing masks and isolation.
“If groups of people refuse to get the vaccine, should we leave them to fend for themselves, or will we have a mandatory vaccine for children to go to school, or for employees in care homes? There are a lot of difficult questions,” he said.
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