The world has hit a stagnant point economically and socially because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and everyone is hoping that normalcy will return once an effective vaccine is developed.
In the best-case scenario, this might be true, and we will all be back to attending concerts and watching games in packed arenas or cracking open a cold one with friends. The more probable scenario though is that a vaccine will not end the pandemic but rather taking preventive measures will become a part of our daily routine for the foreseeable future.
Vaccine efficacy is not easy to achieve. Developing a vaccine is a long and complex procedure which usually takes 10-15 years to perfect. With the world racing to produce a vaccine in record time, efficacy can not be promised.
In the best-case scenario, a vaccine may be rolled out so that it puts a stop to community spread, such as vaccines for Hepatitis A and B, polio, and measles did. This will allow us to return to normalcy, but all vaccines do not work this way.
Some vaccines only reduce the risk of getting infected.
For instance, the vaccine for influenza reduces the symptoms the infected person exhibits but it does not make one immune against the flu. With reduced symptoms, the infected person is less contagious and thus transmission is less likely to take place.
On the other hand, some vaccines do not stop the infection at all but rather reduce the severity of the disease.
For instance, the vaccine for tuberculosis does not eliminate the risk of acquiring the disease, but reduces the severity of the disease and the complications related to it, resulting in fewer deaths and less load on the healthcare system.
If the best-case scenario does turn out to be true, and a vaccine is developed that can put a halt to all person-to-person transmission, the world will still have to take preventive measures for a long time because the vaccine is not likely to be immediately around the globe.
Public Health experts warn that the volume of vaccine available to fight the coronavirus or SARS-CoV-2 in coming years is expected to fall far short of global demand, despite an unprecedented effort to manufacture billions of doses.
The small volume of vaccine that will be available may be used by the country that developed it and the rest will most likely be sold to the highest bidders. This will leave the less wealthy countries struggling to find doses for their citizens. Such a scenario will not help end the pandemic because as New York’s Governor, Andrew Cuomo said, “an outbreak anywhere is an outbreak everywhere.”
A recent study published online by Kings College, London suggests that immunity to COVID-19 is short-lived and dwindles rather quickly: in as little as two months.
If that is the case, a single dose of a vaccine will not be enough to end the pandemic. Everyone will have to take booster shots every couple of months, just the way we do for the common cold and flu.
This is bad news for achieving herd immunity and might force us to take preventive measures for a significant amount of time.
While scientists all over the world work to find an effective cure, it is important to accept the fact that COVID-19 is here to stay for the foreseeable future.
Hand hygiene, physical distancing, and face masks are the new normal and should be added to our daily routine to steer clear of transmission as much as possible.
Vaccines are not a magic bullet.