The development and rollout of vaccines against COVID-19 form a key step in the journey towards a post-pandemic world.
For the past year, the coronavirus pandemic has caused chaos and disrupted lives worldwide. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), since the first human was infected with this novel coronavirus in 2019, over 110 million people have been diagnosed with the virus and more than 2.4 million have died because of it. However, after months of struggling to find ways to combat the spread of the virus and identify treatments to aid those infected, vaccines have finally become available for public use. The WHO also indicates that as of 18 February 2021, at least seven different vaccines protecting against COVID-19 have been created and are currently being distributed in countries across the globe. Following the launch of various efforts and initiatives aimed at providing a safe way for life to return to a semblance of normality, an end to the coronavirus could be within sight – yet questions remain as to how to move forward with these new resources, and what to expect now that vaccines are being actively implemented.
COVID-19 vaccine access and distribution
The most important thing to understand about these breakthroughs is that they are not cures; and that life cannot return to how it was just yet. While vaccines against COVID-19 are available to the public, distributing them properly and effectively to those most in need is going to take time. Issues which have been prevalent throughout much of the pandemic, predominantly lack of access to resources and a paucity of available healthcare workers, present significant challenges to the widespread distribution of the vaccine. This will likely continue in the coming months, but will begin to ease as time goes on and more people are vaccinated.
It is vital to stopping the spread of the virus that these vaccines are distributed throughout the world; and that the efforts of healthcare workers to do so are both recognised and assisted in any way possible. Currently, only specific members of the population will be given access to the vaccine. These include people who suffer with weakened immune systems, such as the elderly or those with immunosuppressive diseases, and frontline healthcare workers who will administer the vaccines and/or work in close proximity to those infected by the virus. This is, of course, dependent on the various governmental healthcare administrators who guide the distribution of the vaccine. Anyone who is unsure if they qualify to receive the vaccines which are currently available should get in touch with their local healthcare authorities or visit their corresponding websites for more information.
Benefits and risks
There are also side effects of the COVID-19 vaccines which need to be kept in mind, as is the case with any vaccine. These side effects range from pain and swelling in the area where the injection is delivered to fever and headaches. Though these side effects will most likely fade after a few days, it is important to monitor them in case they do not. If side effects do persist, it is important to get in touch with a doctor or healthcare provider to ensure that there are no further complications and that any emerging health concerns can be addressed properly. It is unlikely that this will happen, however; and the most common negative side effect to the vaccines is an immediate allergic reaction at the injection site. Because of the possibility of an immediate reaction, many vaccine distributers insist that anyone receiving an injection be monitored for a period of 15 to 20 minutes after receiving the injection. Despite these possible side effects, the benefits of getting the vaccine far outweigh the potential negatives.
The most obvious benefit of receiving a vaccine is that there is a much lower chance of becoming infected with the virus after vaccination. A vaccine will not fully immunise the recipient to the virus, but it is a major step towards immunisation. Part of the reason that a vaccine is not 100% effective is due to the constantly evolving nature of viruses: even now, different strains of coronavirus are emerging around the world; and creating one cure-all solution is very difficult. For this reason, multiple vaccines are being developed and there will probably be many more to come. The WHO estimates that there are more than 200 vaccines currently in development and over 60 are in the process of undergoing clinical trials. As new vaccines against COVID-19 are created and tested, the available vaccines will become better equipped to ensure immunisation to future infections. This process, which is seen in the production of any vaccinations, is a necessary step toward returning to a sense of normalcy in everyday life. Until that day comes, it is important to continue following public health mandates such as social distancing, wearing masks in public, and practising self-quarantine when needed to stop the spread.
The fact that coronavirus vaccines are available for public use does not mean that the pandemic is over. As stated above, this is merely one step – albeit a major one – towards that goal. There are many myths surrounding the vaccines, such as side effects being worse than they actually are or vaccination meaning that a person is now completely immune to the virus, and one must remember that these are just myths. Vaccines will continue to be developed as time goes on and they will be more readily available, but they are not the cure for the coronavirus. While the risk of contracting COVID-19 decreases immensely once a person has received the vaccine, it is still a possibility that they may still become infected. If healthcare workers continue to receive support as they risk their own health in administering vaccines and treating those infected by the virus, and if the public recognises the validity and limitations of the vaccine and continues to follow public health mandates, then society can begin to reopen and this pandemic can come to an end.
1 World Health Organization. (2021, 21 February). WHO coronavirus disease (COVID-19) dashboard. https://covid19.who.int.
2 World Health Organization. (2021, 24 February). COVID-19 vaccines. https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/covid-19-vaccines.
3 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, 23 February). What to expect when getting a COVID-19 vaccine. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/expect/after.html.
4 Mayo Clinic. (2021, 19 February). COVID-19 vaccines: get the facts. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/coronavirus-vaccine/art-20484859#covid-variants.
Primary contact: Dr Paul Pearce