COVID-19 and The Vaccine: A Shot of Hope and A Return to Normal?

The world had been waiting for the news and on November 9 it finally came: a vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioNTech had proved to be more than 90% effective in preventing COVID-19 in clinical trials. And then just a week later another pharmaceutical company, Moderna, announced the results of its own clinical trials. Moderna’s vaccine showed a remarkable 95% efficacy in preventing Covid-19. With further promising results from the Oxford/AstraZenica vaccine showing between 70 – 90% protection, many policymakers now believe we are on track for a mass rollout of multiple vaccines in 2021 and a chance of normality resuming within months. But how realistic is this? And what questions still need to be answered?

Many experts are warning that, while the news about vaccines is an encouraging episode in the pandemic story, it is by no means the end of it. We have many ethical and logistical challenges ahead of us in the coming months. The chief scientist behind the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, Uğur Şahin, has said we are unlikely to see any signs of the pandemic receding before the summer of 2021. In the meantime, a lot of questions remain unanswered: Should we continue with lockdowns until the summer or beyond? Who should be vaccinated first? The elderly so we can save lives and reduce the burden on healthcare providers? Or – as some are suggesting – the young, so we can kickstart the economy? And more broadly, is it fair that pharmaceutical companies should make vast profits from a vaccine?

To answer these questions, Sarah Gilbert, Project Leader for the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, and Tim Spector, epidemiologist and founder of the ZOE Covid symptom tracking app, joined us in December 2020. The event was hosted by Anjana Ahuja, leading science contributor for the Financial Times.

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