We remain optimistic that a vaccine for COVID-19 will be found. And soon.
Vaccine development often takes years, but according to the Mayo Clinic, "researchers aren't starting from scratch to develop a COVID-19 vaccine. Past research on SARS and MERS vaccines has identified potential approaches."
Speaking recently in Science, a journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, virologist Peter Piot offered some guidance but also a warning.
Piot is director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. He was a co-discoverer of the Ebola virus in 1976, and according to the journal, he has spent his career fighting infectious diseases. He also headed the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS between 1995 and 2008 and is now a coronavirus adviser to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
He also was struck with COVID-19 and spent a week in the hospital.
In short, his is a voice worth heeding.
"Without a coronavirus vaccine, we will never be able to live normally again," he told the journal. "The only real exit strategy from this crisis is a vaccine that can be rolled out worldwide. That means producing billions of doses of it, which, in itself, is a huge challenge in terms of manufacturing logistics."
Then this warning: "Today there’s also the paradox that some people who owe their lives to vaccines no longer want their children to be vaccinated. That could become a problem if we want to roll out a vaccine against the coronavirus because if too many people refuse to join, we will never get the pandemic under control."
There are many reasons people give for not wanting vaccinations for themselves or their children — religious, personal beliefs/philosophical reasons and safety concerns. This has grown to the point that 45% of 2,000 people surveyed recently for American Osteopathic Association said they now have doubts about vaccine safety. Their fears are stoked by online campaigns, doubts about the integrity of the pharmaceutical industry and even the comments of the occasional medical expert. The study also found that while social media can spread misinformation about vaccines, it is not effective at countering those claims, even with overwhelming scientific research.
In other words, this country has its work cut out for it, beyond just developing and producing a vaccine.
The antidote here is education, and the time for that treatment is now.
Doctors, nurses, hospitals, pharmacists and the pharmaceutical industry should launch a campaign to restore Americans' confidence in the effectiveness and safety of vaccines.
Piot's fear that many people might resist a vaccine is a real one. Let's not wait until the vaccine gets here to crash up against a barrier that could further endanger the health of everyone.