The COVID-19 vaccine has been dominating the news since Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE’s press release on 9 November 2020. Within two weeks, two other vaccines have also appeared on the global headlines: Moderna and Oxford-AstraZeneca. It has been a very busy November.
What do these vaccines mean for us? Well, over the last few weeks, the vaccines have been hailed as the light at the end of a very dark tunnel. Stakeholders, such as journalists and national governments, have been quick to embrace and share the news and push the vaccine forward. However, next to the amazing news that there may be a sense of normalcy after this rollercoaster of a year, there are some valid trepidations that need to be addressed. The most notable ones in my mind are the safety and accessibility of the vaccine to everyone and the way in which information is being shared between institutions and the community. Currently, the vaccine is being shipped across the world (arguably only to countries that can afford it1) and preparations are being made to store the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines at -70°C. There has also already been someone to receive a vaccine jab2. However, next to this there are also increasing conversations around how safe and long-lasting the vaccines are. These vaccines were developed with unprecedented speed so it is natural to ask ourselves:
- Was approval was given too quickly in a rush to save national economies?
- What are the different components in the vaccine and what could they mean to individuals with different genetic makeups?
- What are potential short- and long-term side-effects of the vaccines?
- How long will immunity last?
- Were they stored correctly?
- Are they effective at all?
These questions do not cover the accessibility part of the vaccine distribution, which is a separate list on its own.
To assure the general public that the vaccines are safe, medical authorities are coming forward to share information about the vaccine development and approval process to alleviate fears and state that, though they were rapidly produced, safety was not compromised3. Notably, the European Medicines Agency of Europe (EMA) organised a public meeting on 11 December 2020 to “inform European citizens about the EU regulatory processes for the approval of COVID-19 vaccines and the Agency’s role in their development, evaluation, approval and safety monitoring”4.
Do these assurances actually help though? From my feeling, more information about the vaccine needs to be shared to increase transparency. More importantly, this data needs to be findable to citizens around the world so they can be fully informed. I’ll leave the question about safety and accessibility for everyone to the experts.