There is plenty of news coming out about a COVID-19 vaccine, and with good reason. The world is unlikely to get back to any semblance of the old normal until a vaccine is developed. Much of the world is still in the throes of a first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, and the rest of the world is preparing itself for a second wave. The desperation for a vaccine is growing every day.
There are several vaccine candidates that are well into human trials and showing promise. We want to be hopeful that a vaccine can be produced in the relatively near future, but we also want to be realistic and avoid giving false hope. The reality is that we cannot be certain that a vaccine will be produced this year or even next year.
We should not sit back and wait for a vaccine to save us from our current predicament. Instead, we should prepare for the possibility that COVID-19 will impact our lives for a long time.
Vaccine may be delayed longer than expected
There are very few COVID-19 treatments available that have been validated by research. This means that our only real hope of containing the pandemic is a vaccine. And there is some optimism from officials, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), that we will get a vaccine before the end of the year.
There is a great deal of money being poured into vaccine research at the moment. The US government is leading the way with its Operation Warp Speed, which is committing about $10 billion to vaccine development.
Countries are also committing billions to pre-order hundreds of millions of vaccines that may or may not be effective. The US has struck a deal with Pfizer for the first 100 million doses of its vaccine for $1.95 billion. Governments are not holding back in their hunt for a vaccine that could get their economies back on track. However, just because lots of money is being poured into the research does not guarantee that it is enough money.
The WHO (World Health Organization) says that the world still has to “scale up financing”, with $100 billion needed to vaccinate the world’s population. This money would have to come from increased government contributions or from the private sector. With the world economy in bad shape right now, this funding will be hard to come by.
The US is also withdrawing from the WHO and using their own processes and funding to hunt for a vaccine. This splintering of vaccine funding globally could slow down efforts.
Officials in England have begun to prepare themselves for a delayed or non-existent vaccine. England’s deputy chief medical officer said “We can’t be sure we will get a vaccine”.
Even if a vaccine arrives quickly, we cannot be sure that it will end the pandemic. There is evidence that COVID-19 does not trigger long-lasting immunity. This is consistent with other coronaviruses, including the common cold, some types of which offer no immunity after infection.
Antibodies that have been found are mostly not the type that triggers long-lasting immunity – antibodies called IgC. Maybe our best hope would be seasonal immunity, such as is the case with influenza. However, COVID-19 has a higher mortality rate than influenza and would wreak more havoc on society even if it is seasonal.
This does not mean that a vaccine cannot create long-lasting immunity. But there is no guarantee of it either.
Even after a vaccine is produced, it will need to be distributed, which can take a few months or more. We have not seen a public health logistics operation to this extent in history. We all hope this can be done quickly but it is a large question mark.
On top of this, even after a vaccine is tested, produced and distributed, it still needs to be administered to the population. Children can receive the vaccine in schools, but what about adults? Not everyone has a family doctor and even some who do almost never go in to see them. Will public health nurses go door to door or business to business administering the vaccine? There is not a simple and quick way of administering a vaccine to millions of people.
Plan for a long pandemic
COVID-19 will likely pose a threat in society until we reach herd immunity – about 60% of the population being immune. Recent studies in Canada have shown that only about 1% of the population has antibodies. As we have seen, it is no guarantee that a vaccine will get us to herd immunity quickly.
This does not mean that the pandemic will continue to look the same for the next several years, but it still may affect us profoundly. We may not need to completely social distance and our economy may open up more and more. But we will still have to take action to keep our families, employees and neighbours safe.
Preparing PPE supply for a long-lasting pandemic
PPE (personal protective equipment), especially face masks, have been in short supply since the pandemic started. This is unlikely to change as the pandemic draws on and businesses need these supplies to stay open. Mandatory mask laws will likely stay in place for a long time, and schools will need to use many masks each day to protect students.
Instead of trying to procure N95 masks from overseas suppliers during the pandemic, disinfection is an easy and effective way to maintain PPE supply. Research shows that disinfecting masks and other PPE for reuse is effective and safe for up to 10 decontaminations. Health Canada has approved decontamination as an effective and safe method to maintain PPE supply. If you’re a business owner looking to disinfect your PPE, learn more here.
We all hope that a vaccine will come quickly and be effective enough to eradicate the COVID-19 virus forever. However, we need to be realistic and take steps to prepare for a long-lasting pandemic.
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