Scientists have warned that the scheduled release of a coronavirus vaccine will still not allow society to return to normal by spring.
Many, including President Donald Trump, are regarding the release of an effective vaccine as the signal of an end to the pandemic and its devastating effects but a group of leading scientists in the industry have warned that this will likely not be the case.
A report released from a collaboration of researchers at the Royal Society has highlighted the need to be ‘realistic’ about what the vaccine can achieve and the time it will take to do so. It was also suggested that lockdown restrictions and measures should be relaxed gradually as it may take up to 12 months to fully distribute the vaccine.
Across the world, more than 200 vaccines are in development to help protect various countries against the virus and its effects but the processes being undertaken are normally conducted over a much larger period of time.
“A vaccine offers great hope for potentially ending the pandemic, but we do know that the history of vaccine development is littered with lots of failures,” said Dr. Fiona Culley, from the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London.
President Trump has repeatedly said that he is expecting the beginning of distribution of a fully tested coronavirus vaccine before Election Day on November 3, while UK health ministers have announced hopes for initial distribution to begin before the end of the year.
“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.
“There’s not a question of life suddenly returning to normal in March.”
There is worry over how the mass distribution of the various vaccines as experimental approaches are being taken in some cases, such as with RNA vaccines that have never been mass produced before. Additionally, there are concerns over the great need for raw materials, for both the vaccine itself and glass vials needed to contain it, while some vaccines need storing at temperatures of minus 112 Fahrenheit, raising further concerns over refrigerator capacity.
Prof Charles Bangham, chair of immunology of Imperial College London, said: “We simply don’t know when an effective vaccine will be available, how effective it will be and of course, crucially, how quickly it can be distributed.
“Even if it is effective, it is unlikely that we will be able to get back completely to normal, so there’s going to be a sliding scale, even after the introduction of a vaccine that we know to be effective.
It is also not known how the public will respond to the vaccines as a whole and researchers warned the issue of long-term immunity will take some time to answer and it remains to be seen if people will need just one shot or instead need to be vaccinated every couple of years.
“Long term studies will be needed to establish vaccine effectiveness and longevity of protection. Few vaccines give lifelong protection following a single dose. A partially protective vaccine may not be effective in priority groups, may allow onwards transmission, or could require higher vaccination rates to achieve the same levels of protection in a population,” the Royal Society report read.
“A vaccine of low efficacy may not achieve herd immunity. Rare adverse events or limited effectiveness in the field may only come to light when very large numbers of people are vaccinated. Multiple doses may be needed to stimulate an effective level of immunity and if a candidate yields short-lived immunity, boosters may be required, with implications for manufacturing capacity, distribution and for generation of immunity in the wider population.
“Unequal access and vaccine availability risks exacerbating health inequalities. Ethnic minority groups have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and overcoming barriers to vaccination will require culturally sensitive collaboration,” the report continued.
“Criteria for vaccine prioritization should be defined and made explicit. There should be public dialogue and engagement to manage expectations and understanding of vaccine effectiveness, safety, side effects, availability and access.
“The diverse reasons for vaccine hesitancy will need to be addressed to engender public trust, with clear messaging targeted to different groups. Acceptability will be determined by factors such as efficacy, doses required, side-effects, and perceived risks.
There are a number of reasons for vaccine hesitancy and a range of strategies are needed, such as ‘convert communicators’, where those with previously strongly held opinions explain why they changed their mind. Other barriers to vaccine uptake such as financial disincentives should be removed.
“Vaccine strategies will need to be planned and revised on the basis of an integrated understanding of the emerging data on immunology, economics, manufacturing and behavioral issues, which will govern a successful vaccination program.”