The media have been awash with stories about the apparent success of the Pfizer Covid vaccine following the publication of preliminary trial outcomes (Hopes rise for end of pandemic as Pfizer says vaccine is 90% effective, 10 November). I am not surprised that the public has latched on to these, as hope and positivity have been in short supply this past year. I have even had patients contacting me about when the vaccine will be available, stating that it will allow “normal” life to resume.
While the public can be forgiven for overoptimism, it is important that the medical profession, the media and the government keep expectations grounded and do not encourage the notion that we now have a panacea that will take us out of the pandemic.
While there is evidence that this vaccine seems effective in preventing Covid-19 developing in those vaccinated, we do not know how long this immunity lasts for. It is also not known whether those who had the vaccine were less contagious and thus less likely to transmit the virus to others. There are also potential logistic issues with the delivery and storage of the vaccine, which needs to be kept at a minimum of -70C. Hospitals and general practices in the UK generally do not have facilities for these ultra-low temperatures.
Although the government claims to have secured enough doses to vaccinate one-third of the UK, the realities of the challenges of vaccine production mean sufficient doses won’t be available until well into 2021. The health secretary’s comments about the possibility of a vaccine rollout before the end of the year are unhelpful.
No one should feel guilty for being optimistic about a breakthrough in the fight against coronavirus, but this should not detract from the message of social distancing and effective testing and tracing.
Dr Milan Dagli
GP, Harrow, London
• As a 77-year-old, I welcome the breakthrough on a Covid-19 vaccine and await with interest details of the prioritisation of recipients. In 1965, as a 22-year-old diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB) when pregnant with my first child, I remember being immensely relieved that this potentially fatal disease was treatable. How, then, is TB – for which there is a long-established proven vaccine and effective drugs – still the biggest infectious disease killer worldwide? Last year it made 10 million people ill and killed 1.4 million.
Whether or not we get a Covid vaccine for countries that can afford it, it will be the same populations living in poverty, war zones etc that will be the ones learning to live (and die) with this latest pandemic. The euphoria that greeted Monday’s announcement by Pfizer was more than matched by excitement at the “shot in the arm” for the stock markets. Priorities indeed!
• Amid the general jubilation over the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine breakthrough, might one now appeal for these companies to work to make adequate supplies of the vaccine available at an affordable cost to those countries infinitely less privileged than our own? This is a real chance for pharma to show its commitment to justice and peace, to act in solidarity with a third world we have created.
Stonegrave, North Yorkshire
• We’re told that a vaccine, imported at -80C from Belgium, will be available by the new year. How warm will it get, waiting in the queue with 7,000 other trucks?
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