In March, Boris Johnson said we would reverse the tide in 12 weeks and “send the coronavirus pack,” and in May, ministers boasted of having a vaccine by September. Last week, the Prime Minister sounded far less confident, telling MPs that there was still no vaccine against SARS, 18 years after it emerged. A vaccine may not be far away.
The World Health Organization tracks 1
China and Russia have already approved some vaccines for limited use. The Wuhan Institute of Biological Products has a vaccine used for health workers in the United Arab Emirates, and says the Chinese government has approved its use in more than 100,000 people. CanSino Biologics is testing its vaccine on Chinese soldiers. Vladimir Putin has used the pandemic for propaganda: he claimed that the Russian Gamaleya Research Institute’s vaccine was approved in August (it was not), called it “Sputnik V” and is believed by the Foreign Ministry to have approved a disinformation campaign aimed at AstraZeneca trials.
Vaccine Taskforce chairwoman Kate Bingham says there is a “small chance” a vaccine will arrive by Christmas. But she expects it to be here “early next year”. The Regulatory Authority of Medicines and Healthcare products must approve any vaccine and then manufacture and distribute it. Pharmaceutical companies have already made millions of doses of some of the drugs during trials, but distribution can be more complicated. Many vaccines need to be kept refrigerated before use, so seven “Nightingale Vaccination Centers” have been found, including Leeds Town Hall and the Woking Leisure Center, according to the Economist.
Will I be vaccinated?
It depends: are you elderly, classified as clinically extremely vulnerable, or do you work for the NHS? In that case, you will probably be at the head of the queue. But younger and more skilled people who are not important workers are likely to have to wait much longer.
Luminaires like Sir Jeremy Farrar, the director of the Wellcome Trust, have pointed out that it would be immoral for richer countries like Britain and the US to stockpile vaccines while others fight for scrap. Farrar believes that only 20% to 30% of the UK initially needs a vaccine.
We can not be sure that vaccines will mean an end to blockages. Researchers are urging politicians to lock themselves in to prevent the virus from spreading so fast that hospitals are running out of beds to treat the sick – whether they have Covid-19 or another life-threatening disease. The first vaccines may be only partially effective and may not protect everyone. Influenza vaccines are only 50% effective, Bingham said last week. We may need masks and social distance until at least July 2021.