By Henry Luo (’24)
We are facing one of the most unprecedented challenges of our time. In the year of 2020, we have faced a global pandemic of COVID-19 that sprang up from nowhere but spread everywhere like wildfire. While there unfortunately will still be more tragedy ahead, the distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine will be vital to suppress this novel virus and its waves of offense. But even with a working vaccine at our fingertips, there are still three issues society will face when it comes to vaccination. First, easing the concerns of those unsure about the potential health risk related to the new vaccine. Second, providing an estimate on how long the effectiveness of the vaccine will last. And third responding to the problem that Canada does not have the capabilities to manufacture the vaccines.
Forms of the COVID-19 have (and continue to be) designed, tested, and manufactured at a rapid speed to meet the urgency for the pandemic. With a vaccine made in such a short period of time, the safety of the vaccine needs to be addressed, with regards to the vaccine’s side effects and the potential health risk to people who have a history of illnesses and allergies. About one third of the Canadian public has already voiced their concerns about the vaccine and are unsure about whether they will take it. Given the need for a large proportion of the population to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity, ensuring the safety of the vaccine and communicating the effectiveness of immunizations to the general public is crucial.
Second, according to the vaccine manufacturers such as Pfizer, the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine does not last forever. It is yet unknown what the exact amount of time the vaccine will protect individuals from the virus, but Dr. Paul Offit, a member of the Food and Drug Administration panel stated, “It’s a reasonable bet, but still a gamble that protection for two or three months is similar to six months or a year.” It is very important to realize that to achieve herd immunity in communities, a majority of the population must be vaccinated. The herd immunity wanes when the effectiveness of the vaccine decreases overtime. Given the reality that distributing vaccines during a pandemic of this scale will be a challenge, it remains important for people to keep social distance, wearing masks, and taking other safety precautions. This vaccine is not a silver bullet on its own: public buy-in, the continuation of health protocols, and clear government communication are essential if the vaccine is to be effective.
Last but not least, Canada does not have the ability to manufacture mRNA vaccines, which are the type of vaccine many current vaccine manufacturing companies are using. Canada lost the ability to mass produce vaccines a long time ago, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau explained this week in Ottawa: “We used to have [production capacity] decades ago but we no longer have it.” This means that even if the country has developed a vaccine for COVID-19, there will be no means of production on a large scale. But how did we get ourselves into this situation? The Canadian administrations simply took their “eye off the ball,” said Earl Brown, an infectious disease expert and a former member of the H1N1 vaccine task group in Canada. Canada’s inability to produce a vaccine would mean that we would have to rely on purchase agreements with top American and European pharmaceutical companies. This also puts a great strain on Canadian taxpayers, as the country is buying vaccines from others.
All in all, a working vaccine is a crucial step towards ending the pandemic, but with cases rising across the country, we cannot become complacent. It is dangerous to assume that we can let our guards down and believe that a vaccine is a silver bullet, but we must realize that in order to end the COVID pandemic, we still need to abide by the governmental health orders and protect ourselves against the virus until a large immunity is established. A failure to do so could cause this pandemic to continue longer than necessary.