A vaccine against COVID-19 is often perceived as the silver bullet that will magically end the pandemic. But a recent report carried by the Royal Society concluded that we need to be more “realistic” about what a vaccine could achieve and when. They revealed that restrictions may need to be “gradually relaxed” as it could take up to a year to roll the vaccine out.
Hundreds of scientists globally are working day and night to develop a vaccine against the novel coronavirus, with 11 currently in phase 3 human trials. The UK government has reserved access to six potential vaccines and has raised hopes that a vaccine could be on the cards by spring next year, but experts say daily life restrictions are likely to continue for some time after that.
“Even when the vaccine is available it doesn’t mean within a month everybody is going to be vaccinated, we’re talking about six months, nine months… a year,” said Prof. Nilay Shah, head of chemical engineering at Imperial College London and part of the Royal Society report.
The report from the multidisciplinary group convened by the Royal Society, called Delve (Data Evaluation and Learning for Viral Epidemics), reveals there are major challenges to producing a vaccine, including barriers in manufacturing and storage, fears around how well vaccines will work, and problems with public trust.
Prof. Nilay Shah also said that while there would be access to vaccines in March – not least because manufacturing will begin before the results of trials is known – the question was whether they will be shown to be effective and passed regulatory procedures.
Some of the experimental approaches being taken – such as RNA vaccines, have never been mass produced before. There are many questions around raw materials – both for the vaccine and glass vials, and refrigerator capacity, with some vaccines needing storage at minus 80C.
In response to the DELVE report, the Department of Health and Social Care in the UK said: “This study fails to reflect the enormous amount of planning and preparation that has taken place across Governments to quickly roll out a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine. Our plans include significantly expanding the trained workforce who can administer COVID-19 and flu vaccines, making it faster and easier for patients to access the vaccines they need”.
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