A careful Christmas as the world waits on a vaccine
Christmas or the festive season this year is going to look very different across the globe with many families separated by COVID-19 prevention measures such as country-specific lockdowns, travel restrictions and strict social distancing policies and policing in place. This comes as major blow for many people who were hoping to be able to spend the holidays with their loved ones. However, with the resurgences of infections across the world, essential limitations have been applied and local or international travel between countries that are deemed hot spots is no longer viable. This is applicable in South Africa too. With COVID-19 showing no signs of slowing down at this stage, preventative measures are no longer enough nor are they indefinitely sustainable, therefore a long-term solution is required to address the situation – and this presents itself in the form of a vaccine.
For many – especially those who have been manning the front lines, all they want for Christmas is an effective COVID-19 vaccine. Well, thankfully after a year of a lot of doom and gloom, it looks like there may be some hope in sight. There has been a global race to develop a successful COVID-19 vaccine as it is the only “viable” way to effectively curb the spread of the virus, with all of the world’s major players joining in in an effort to return to ‘normal’ as soon as humanly possible. As it currently stands, there are just over 150 vaccines in development across the world, including some that are showing very promising results in both the United States and the United Kingdom. Realistically though – how long does it take to develop a vaccine when there are so many companies and countries working towards the same goal?
Historically, it can take between “10 to 15 years to bring a vaccine to market”; however that being said, it can be done in less. The current record holder for the fastest developed vaccine yet is a mumps vaccine that was developed in the 1960s which was developed over a four year period. The process of developing a vaccine is as time-consuming as it involves a “three-stage clinical trial process before they are sent to regulatory agencies for approval” (Centre for Disease Control and Prevention). It’s important to note that even if a vaccine is approved, it’s not an automatic given that the vaccine will be rolled out anytime soon. There are many additional factors that could prolong the successful development and distribution of a vaccine. These include considerations such as determining the scale of the production, location of production, the final distribution of the vaccine as well as the consumer cost. All of these play a crucial role as to how and when a vaccine is finally made ready for public distribution and use.
Thankfully, given the current severity of the COVID-19 pandemic, the necessity for an effective vaccine has assisted many companies in expediting their processes in line with regulatory authorities’ requirements. According to National Geographic, “the COVID-19 candidates, like all vaccines, essentially aim to instruct the immune system to mount a defence, which is sometimes stronger than what would be provided through natural infection and comes with fewer health consequences.” There are some notable vaccine prospects currently that have surpassed the third stage of the clinical trial stages, and are making good headway towards the production of an effective vaccine. These include Pfizer, who has most recently received emergency authorization in the UK, which also makes it the “first Western country to approve any COVID-19 vaccine candidate.” The University of Oxford’s trial includes testing the vaccine on over 50,000 volunteers across Brazil, the US, UK and South Africa. While we aren’t quite there yet, a promising number of prospects are ensuring that positive progress is certainly being made and the hope is that the conversation around COVID will be vastly different next Christmas.