Why Taking the Covid-19 Vaccine Does Not Promise Return to Normalcy

Coronavirus

Why Taking the Covid-19 Vaccine Does Not Promise Return to Normalcy

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

This week marked one of the most significant developments in the global effort to fight the coronavirus pandemic. The United Kingdom, on Tuesday, December 8, became the first country in the world to begin rolling out vaccines for Covid-19 to patients outside of clinical trials. Developed by the pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and BioNTech, the vaccine has new messenger-RNA technology, which uses a manufactured fragment of the virus’ genetic code. It is administered via an injection into the arm, and is meant to be given to patients in two doses, three weeks apart.

According to the US FDA, protection against the virus kicks in after the first shot but reaches full effectiveness 10 days after the second shot has been administered.

The Pfizer vaccine, as it’s being commonly called, has been found to be effective in preventing the illness in 95 per cent of the recipients in trials. However, it is unclear how long the vaccination will protect someone from the coronavirus. Also no clinical trials have been designed yet to determine if the immunised person can spread the infection to someone else.

Will the Pfizer vaccine be available outside the UK? Global organisation People’s Vaccine Alliance, a network which includes Amnesty International and Oxfam, has voiced concerns that wealthier countries could hoard doses of new vaccines at the expense of poorer nations. Studies conducted by the organisation found that despite being home to only 14 per cent of the world’s population, richer countries had purchased 53 per cent of all available doses of the most promising vaccine candidates. A BBC report quotes Oxfam’s health policy manager Anna Marriott, who said, “No-one should be blocked from getting a life-saving vaccine because of the country they live in or the amount of money in their pocket… But unless something changes dramatically, billions of people around the world will not receive a safe and effective vaccine for Covid-19 for years to come.”

In India, apart from Pfizer, there are also other candidates vying for approval from the Drugs Controller General of India (DGCI). Serum Institute has become the second company to apply for DCGI approval after Pfizer. Unlike Pfizer, which conducted its clinical trials abroad, Serum Institute has been conducting trials locally, in collaboration with AstraZeneca.

Like Pfizer, the Oxford vaccine that is being produced by Serum Institute requires two doses, which will have to be injected. Unlike Pfizer, the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine uses traditional vaccine methods – introducing a weakened form of the virus, according to a report in Independent.

“This type of vaccine uses only the virus’s genetic code. It enters the cells and tells them to create antigens, which are then recognised by the immune system, and prepares it to fight the coronavirus,” the report says.

However, given that both have yet to receive approval from the DGCI, it is likely to take until next year before the vaccines are ready for use in India.

But the vaccination does not necessarily mean life can go back to normal. That’s because no vaccine is 100 per cent effective and there is no evidence that the fast-tracked vaccines can stop the spread of the virus.

Until the doubts and questions surrounding the Covid-19 vaccine are cleared, the masks and pocket sanitiser bottles are here to stay.

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