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What progress has been made?
The much-needed and anticipated Covid-19 vaccine is very quickly moving through the development stages, with hopes that a vaccine could be approved by the end of the year and distributed in 2021. The UK has agreements with multiple vaccine manufacturers, including the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine and the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine.
The race to produce a successful vaccination has been likened to the Space Race during the Cold War period. Russia named its first Covid-19 vaccine Sputnik V. But scientists around the world have been questioning the efficiency and safety of this vaccine.
The process of developing a vaccine, outside of the context of a global pandemic, is usually much slower. But as of November 2020 – less than a year from the start of this pandemic – three vaccine candidates have already cleared their respective Phase 3 clinical trials with varying but high levels of effectiveness and are now waiting for emergency approvals from relevant regulatory authorities including the Food & Drug Administration in the United States.
The list of vaccines that have cleared Phase 3 trials include both the Pfizer as well as the Moderna vaccine. The developers of both these candidates have reported that their vaccines have an efficacy rate of over 90% and are safe due to the lack of adverse side effects.
It has also been reported that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has triggered a strong immune response in older adults in clinical trials, demonstrating that there are promising results for fighting the virus.
How does the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine work?
This vaccine is the conventional kind of vaccine that uses a weakened form of the virus to prepare the body for infection. This technology is used in many vaccines that are already offered to the public. Most people who have been vaccinated at some point have probably experienced this type of vaccination process. The weakened form of the virus is genetically modified, so it is impossible for it to grow in humans.
The Oxford Vaccine induces antibody and T cell responses. T cells are a type of white blood cell that kills infected host cells and antibodies are proteins that are produced by the immune system in response to foreign substances known as antigens. Essentially, this prepares the immune system to fight coronavirus in the case that it infects the body, as it will have already experienced a version of the virus before.
Considering that older people generally have weaker immune systems and make up most of the covid and covid related deaths, there have been concerns that the vaccine won’t be as successful among them. However, the results of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine have indicated that the vaccine shows better responses in older people than in younger adults.
The UK has ordered 100 million doses of this particular vaccine. This will be enough for most of the population.
Who will be prioritised for receiving the vaccine in the UK?
The UK will of course prioritize the elderly and care workers. Unfortunately, this will exclude some of the people most susceptible to catching the virus, essential workers, outside of the medical profession, but still on the frontline.
Public health advisors have warned that frontline workers could die in unjustifiably high numbers if this error of judgment is not rectified. There is a clear prioritization of the most senior workers in hospitals, even though porters, cleaners, and security staff also have a higher-than-average chance of being exposed to the virus. Hopefully, these decisions will be re-evaluated as they have generally problematic implications and are putting people in unnecessary danger.
Male key workers in low-paid manual jobs were four times more likely to die in the first wave of the virus than men in professional occupations, according to an analysis of Covid-19 deaths by the Office for National Statistics. Clearly, they shouldn’t be excluded from the vaccine’s early stages of distribution.
Conspiracy theories debunked
Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter have been working to fight disinformation spread by Aati-vaccination conspirators online. Tik Tok is one of the main culprits when it comes to the spread of COVID-related misinformation online.
The Wakefield controversy of 1998 is still impacting the credibility of vaccinations. Some anti-vaccination conspirators have claimed that those who get vaccinated for coronavirus will be at risk of developing autism, as was proposed of the MMR vaccine years ago. This is a complete fraud, as has already been well established. People’s perceptions and trust of vaccinations, post the Wakefield controversy, could impact their willingness to receive the Covid-19 vaccine.
The Labour Party believes that the UK government is not doing enough to protect people from fake news. The party believes that there should be fines and penalties for social media firms that do not remove misinformation about vaccines. Jonathan Ashworth, the Shadow Health Secretary, voiced his concerns that the spread of misinformation is “exploiting people’s fears, their mistrust of institutions and governments and spreading poison and harm”.
One of the most popular conspiracies recently is that the coronavirus pandemic is a cover for a plan to implant tiny tracking microchips in people and that Bill and Melinda Gates are behind it all. Gates and others have been targeted for their work in donating to vaccine research and development. Perhaps the invasive nature of the NHS track and trace app in the UK has contributed to the idea that we are being monitored by the government and large tech companies.
Another conspiracy is aimed particularly at the Pfizer vaccine, claiming that it alters your DNA. This conspiracy is due to misunderstandings about how this vaccine actually works. It’s different from the kind of vaccines that most of us are aware of. The Pfizer vaccine is a DNA vaccine that involves the injection of a part of the virus’s DNA or RNA to stimulate an immune response in the receiver without an infection, as opposed to conventional vaccines like the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.
Mark Lynas of Cornell University’s Alliance for Science group cleared up some of the misunderstandings by assuring that “genetic modification would involve the deliberate insertion of foreign DNA into the nucleus of a human cell, and vaccines simply don’t do that.”
Studies have shown that there is a significant negative relationship between anti-vaccine conspiracies and vaccination intentions among the public. Conspiracy theories can actually be successful in discrediting the success of vaccines and therefore adversely impact the process of ending this global pandemic.