At last, there is hope of an end to this pandemic. Scientists appear to have performed an amazing feat, the rest of us must do our best too
Medicine is only partly a matter of science; it is, very much, the business of people. The inspiring news that a Covid vaccine appears within reach, with interim results showing the Pfizer/BioNTech candidate has 90% efficacy in protecting people from illness, reflects the extraordinary efforts of scientists this year. The speed with which this one has been developed – with others close behind – is remarkable. Detailed data has yet to be published, and much remains unknown, including how long individuals may be protected, whether it prevents infection and how effective it will be for older people, who are most vulnerable to Covid-19. There are still no guarantees it will be used, though manufacturing has begun. Nonetheless, this is a potentially transformative moment.
Now it is up to the rest of us to do our part. If this vaccine becomes available from the end of the year, as now looks likely, and others soon follow, the deployment will matter as much as its discovery. As one scientist has noted: “Vaccines don’t save lives. Vaccinations save lives.” Pfizer and BioNTech hope to make 50m doses available this year, but each patient requires two doses, and with the US, EU, UK and others all having placed advance orders, each country will get a tiny fraction of those it ultimately needs. Even if production of this vaccine is scaled up as planned, others will still be needed. The UK has a clear plan for who will be protected first, beginning with the oldest in society and those who care for them and thus might transmit the virus to them. Professor John Bell told MPs that there is a 70%-80% chance of having the most vulnerable covered by Easter if authorities “don’t screw up the distribution”. Mass inoculation will be a challenge; NHS England is planning seven-day services.