Coronavirus Vaccines

Experts warn vaccines don’t mean we’ll see the last of COVID-19 soon

*Experts warn that as global vaccine campaigns take time, usually decades, even with the latest technologies, money and might behind the unprecedented drive to knock out COVID-19, the disease is unlikely to be eliminated any time soon

Emmanuel Akosile | ConsumerConnect

Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines are here, and more are on their way in record speed.

Less than a year since the Coronavirus began ravaging the world, the first vaccine shots are raising hopes for wiping the disruptive pandemic from the face of the earth.

ConsumerConnect gathered that recent programmes in the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK) are precursors to immunisation campaigns intended to reach the planet’s entire population —all 8 billion people in every corner of the globe.

Many say there is reason for optimisim, and that vaccines are the best, and perhaps only, way to eliminate infectious disease: Smallpox has been eradicated and polio is on the brink, with just two countries where transmission persists.

However, experts have observed that global vaccine campaigns take time ─ usually decades ─ suggesting that even with the latest technologies, money and might behind the unprecedented global drive to knock out COVID-19, the disease is unlikely to be eliminated any time soon.

Walter Orenstein, Associate Director of the Emory Vaccine Center in Atlanta and former Head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) immunisation programme, said: “I would be surprised to see an actual eradication of this virus now that it’s all over the world.

“I’d be shocked, given how contagious it is.”

According to agency report, snags in supply and distribution have already arisen in the opening days of the US vaccine campaign, and the UK, the first Western country to begin immunising, vaccinated just 138,000 people in its first week.

Meanwhile, Europe has yet to start inoculations, and probably won’t do so until after Christmas.

There are growing concerns over how long it will take to immunise vast swaths of the world beyond a group of wealthy countries that have snapped up early supplies.

A global programme called Covax, which aims to deploy COVID vaccines around the globe, has secured deals with developers, including Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca Plc.

But some of those supplies, report stated, are expected to come from an experimental inoculation from Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline Plc that’s been delayed and may not be ready until late next year.

Mark Suzman, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, told reporters on a December 9 call, that “it’s really, really, really complicated to make sure we get those vaccines produced and distributed in an equitable way globally, for both moral and economic reasons.”

Suzman pointed to research showing that broad access to vaccines could deliver significant economic benefits to all countries and save many lives.

Since wealthy nations will likely have more than enough doses to vaccinate their entire populations, they should consider the re-allocation of some supplies to those most in need, said Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Chief.

It was learnt mass vaccination has been one of the most successful public health interventions in the world, and has played an important part raising US life expectancy by more than 50% over the last century.

For instance, about a third of US deaths in 1900 occurred in children under age 5, many of them from diseases like smallpox, measles and whooping cough that are now preventable by immunisation.

Some new vaccines have also gained quick and widespread use, like shots that prevent pneumococcal infections that can cause severe illness in children and adults. Introduction of the shingles vaccination has offered prevention of the painful disease to millions of people over the past two decades.

A veteran of the World Health Organisation’s effort to eradicate smallpox, Orenstein would often immunise himself in front of entire villages to assuage safety fears.

And to defeat COVID, “we’ve got to convince people to take the vaccine,” said Anthony Fauci, the top US Government infectious-disease specialist, in an interview.

Fauci stated: “If you have a highly effective vaccine and only 50% of the people take it, you’re not going to have the impact that you’d need to essentially bring a pandemic down to such a low level that it’s no longer threatening society.

And that’s the goal of a vaccine, the same way we did with measles, the same way we did with polio, the same way the world did with smallpox.”

The expert pointed out that most standard immunisations provide protection for years to decades.

He also disclosed we still don’t know how long COVID vaccines will last.

And it isn’t clear whether they prevent transmission along with protection against symptoms, although studies may soon shed light on that, report said.

Rajeev Venkayya, President of Takeda Pharmaceutical Co.’s vaccines business, said in an interview that the logistics and supply-chain challenge the world faces today is “more complicated than usual because for the first time in history we’ll be introducing multiple vaccines against the same target at the same time.”

He noted that countries will need databases to track the rollout and ensure people are getting the doses at the right times, as well as systems to monitor potential side effects and share the information with the public.

Venkayya, a former Special Assistant for biodefense to US President George W. Bush, stressed that early on, countries plan to prioritise the most vulnerable people as well as healthcare workers and other critical staff, which will reduce deaths and suffering considerably.

He stated: “But transmission won’t go down dramatically in the beginning. It’s going to take time to get to a sufficient level of vaccine-driven population immunity before we begin to dampen transmission.”

The expert stated potentially, by the middle of next year (2021), countries such as the UK and US will be able to see a “real dampening of transmission.

“That timeline is going to be delayed in many other parts of the world that don’t have this kind of early access to vaccines.”

Unvaccinated populations always threaten to reintroduce disease into areas where herd immunity appears to have taken over, report added.

It was further learnt that in 2019, the annual number of worldwide, reported measles case rose more than six-fold to about 870,000, the most since 1996, as immunisation rates flagged.

Klaus Stohr, a former Novartis AG vaccine executive and WHO official who championed efforts at preparing for pandemics, noted that the world is likely to see the same level of viral persistence from the Coronavirus.

“The prediction is pretty clear: The virus will never be eradicated. Why?

“Because there will always be a large proportion of susceptible population in the community.”

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