The UK celebrated last week when Matt Hancock announced it a COVID-19 vaccine could be launched by the NHS from December 1, with early results showing it could prevent more than 90% of people from becoming infected with the coronavirus. In the midst of a second national lockdown with Christmas on the way, coupled with the reality that COVID-19 won’t just be a problem for 2020, a vaccine looks like something to simply celebrate. But is this news giving people false hope? Simply put, yes it is.
At first, the vaccine data looks promising. The 90% effectiveness is much higher than the flu vaccine currently being administered across the UK. However, this 90% figure is not the final analysis. It is based only on first 94 volunteers, out of 43,500 people tested, therefore the efficacy may change when all the results have been analyzed. Furthermore, there is no data to show how well the vaccine will work in the elderly, those most affected by the virus and likely the first to be injected if the vaccine enters circulation. Other questions include, but are not limited to: Will the vaccine prevent you from catching and spreading the virus or just getting sick? How long does immunity last? Will the virus change and will a new vaccine be needed every year? The answer to all these questions is that we don’t know. The British public is given unwarranted hope of a successful vaccine, it could lift morale, but I believe it could be harmful in the long run.
We also don’t know how safe the vaccine will be. No safety concerns have been raised during testing so far, but this is a new type of vaccine. The pioneering RNA vaccine, which has never before been approved for use in humans. Not only that, but the vaccine also went off the drawing board to prove highly effective in a very short period of time. There is no denying the fact that the long-term effects of the vaccine are unknown, which is why the government has already suggested that children will not initially be injected.
Along with real security concerns, the public is also receiving fake news from an increasingly popular anti-vax movement that started before the pandemic. The Labor Party has gone so far as to call for an emergency law to stop online anti-vaccination fake news as conspiracies are already starting to erode trust in a potential vaccine. Social media companies have agreed on a package of measures to curb fake news, but is that enough? I would say it is not. Even before the pandemic, the anti-vax movement and other fake news channels had caused a drop in vaccination rates among children. Young adults, already worried about the long-term effects of the jab, also spend most of their time on social media, where more and more fake news melds and masquerades as trustworthy content.
Even though the vaccine was effective and everyone was happy to get a shot, the timing for the return to normal is still uncertain right now. One of the creators of the vaccine himself suggested it the impact of the vaccine will begin significantly during the summer and life is expected to return to normal by next winter. Other scientists have promised normality by next spring. In my opinion, it is too early to promise these results. In addition to the uncertainties about efficacy and safety, there are also logistical problems to overcome before the vaccine can be distributed on a large scale. For example, the vaccine must be stored in cold storage at a temperature below minus 80 ° C and, so far, the UK has ordered 40 million doses, enough to vaccinate up to 20 million people. Nobody knows how many people will need to be vaccinated for life to be normal again.
As reporter Michelle Roberts put it: ‘cautious optimism is the tone today.’ The hope of a vaccine was needed to help people overcome this second blockade. However, false hopes could jeopardize all the progress we have made so far. Headlines claiming 90% effectiveness, normality by spring, and a scientific miracle, I would say, are reinforcing false hopes. My main fear is that if this vaccine does not live up to those expectations, the public will lose all hope and stop abiding by absolutely vital restrictions.
For more information on the pandemic from Comment: