Why we shouldn't place all our hopes on a coronavirus vaccine

A vaccine is the holy grail in the fight against coronavirus – a simple injection for everyone that will mean an end to lockdowns, social distancing and daily government announcements on death tolls. At the moment, not only do we lack a vaccine for the virus that causes Covid-19: we also lack an effective treatment.  Dr Peter English, a consultant in communicable disease control, told HuffPost UK: “We might get better treatments but they’ll only be of use in countries that can afford them, so without a vaccine we’ll be looking at something that’s probably still worse than flu in terms of the number of people who get seriously ill, coming around every winter for the foreseeable future. There’s no way we can put it back in its box.” Developing any treatment, including vaccines, requires lengthy testing periods on both animals and humans. “Then you have to check it’s safe by injecting into animals and that takes months – then you have to show that it has some efficacy.” An initial phase one trial is usually carried out on a small group of up to 100 people to make sure the vaccine has no major safety concerns, and to allow scientists to work out an effective dose in humans. The phase two study is carried out on a larger group of several hundred people to check if the vaccine works consistently and generates an immune response, as well as to look for possible side effects. Then a much larger phase three study – potentially on several thousand people – can be carried out to allow scientists to gather statistically significant data on a vaccine’s safety and efficacy. Some parts of the process can, but others simply can’t be rushed.  The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) says given the circumstances it may be possible to overlap the three usual phases of clinic testing and accept less complete data than it would normally expect. Gallery: Coronavirus turns the world into a ghost town (The Atlantic) “Coronavirus will be no different and presents new challenges for vaccine development,” he added. “This will take time, and we should be clear it is not a certainty.” There’s a mixed track record with previous coronaviruses – we’re still not immune to the common cold and vaccines for Mers and Sars, also caused by coronaviruses, were never sufficiently tested to prove their efficacy.  Dr English said: “The science is there and they did a lot of work on Mers vaccine but there wasn’t a market for it. World Health Organisation regional director for the Western Pacific, Takeshi Kasai, said last week that people must be ready for a new way of living to allow society to function while the coronavirus is being kept in check. Speaking to an online press conference, he said we must adapt our lives and health systems along with the epidemic, adding: “At least until a vaccine, or a very effective treatment, is found, this process will need to become our new normal.”