The first COVID vaccine is approved. Firstly this is fantastic and welcome news – a triumph of global cooperation and focused scientific effort.
But for a vaccine to have the desired public health impact people have to be persuaded to have it, to encourage their elderly parents to have it. Many people have no idea who the MHRA are or how a vaccine is put through phased trials… frankly they don’t care. Trust in public health messaging has been under significant threat across the globe, and particularly across the Atlantic where the pandemic is running with scary pace after Thanksgiving. This makes persuasion even more critical.
It is not enough simply to say a vaccine is safe. Amongst the key unanswered questions are:
Once vaccinated – will people stop transmitting the virus?
How long will immunity last?
At 95% efficacy, and focused on the most vulnerable, at what point can we remove the blunt instrument that is the 3 tiered approach?
Having been responsible for running vaccination programmes to manage outbreaks in Angola and Afghanistan (measles), and the UK (Meningitis B) I know how quickly the focus will become absorbed by the logistics of distribution, by the challenge of cold chain management, and of mobilising GP hubs. Then the difficulty in making sure people have both doses so the vaccine can be effective.
However we must address persuasion, make people understand how it is safe and how long it will protect them for. Otherwise we won’t eliminate this virus at the speed we all want so that life and the economy can get back to whatever ‘normal’ will be.