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Could we really have a covid-19 vaccine before Christmas?

Matt Hancock our health minister seems to think so, but what does this mean for us, is it safe? And will this mean the end of restrictions?

By Elizabeth Lucy

Elizabeth is a qualified epidemiologist and Public Health specialist. If you would like to submit any specific questions to Elizabeth about coronavirus, email: editor@highlifenorth.com

could we really have a covid-19 vaccine by Christmas?

Matt Hancock our health minister seems to think so, but what does this mean for us, is it safe? And will this mean the end of restrictions? 
 
In reality, the practical roll-out of a vaccine will take some time due to the immense logistics, like actually delivering the vaccine to all the sites across the country whilst keeping it stored at -80°C as mRNA (messenger RNA) is easily degraded at warmer temperatures. Not to mention the staff needed to actually deliver it, but there are plans in place to use the military if needed to help with this. 
 
The vaccine will be offered to those who are most vulnerable first, then healthcare staff, so it’s likely that it won’t be widely available until spring/summer next year. As a result of this, and also the fact that not everyone reacts the same way to a vaccine – it might work better in some than others – it’s likely that some level of restriction will be in place well into 2021. This will probably include mask-wearing, a degree of social-distancing and other covid safe measures that we’re familiar with. 
 
Alongside the vaccine, partners across the globe are also working hard to create new drugs and treatments. This will be key to moving forward if we are able to safely and effectively treat the illness and help those who won’t be able to have the vaccine. This will help to save lives and stop hospitals from becoming overwhelmed. 

So what about vaccine safety, isn't this all rather new and rushed?

Well, the answer to that is both yes and no; the process has definitely been fast-tracked but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There are often long delays, the processes of applying for ethics and funding etc; all of this takes time. But with so much funding and support, it has been possible to really fast track and streamline the different phases and run them simultaneously. 
 
What is new, however, is the technology. A messenger RNA vaccine has never been approved anywhere in the world yet and there has never been a mass vaccination using this technology before. That’s not to say it won’t work, more that it is a new technology with no predecessor to observe. Additionally, there were some changes to the Human Medicine Regulations to support the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines this summer which can allow for the temporary authorisation of the supply of an unlicensed vaccine, as well as modifying the scope of immunity from civil liability. You can read this consultation paper on the government website. 
 
So it is no simple task, but there is definitely hope for 2021! In reality, it will take a combination of sensible measures, a safe and reliable vaccine and access to efficacious drugs, therapies and treatments; as well as good surveillance and clear messages from our leadership to lead us into a post covid life. Partners across the world are working hard to ensure Christmas won’t be quite as precarious in 2021. 
 
Wishing you a safe and healthy remainder of 2020. 

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