The search for a vaccine

Caution is the keyword as tests continue

The quest for a vaccine for Covid-19 throws up a confused and at times murky picture amongst scientists, politicians and commentators, not to mention the multitude of outspoken comments and posts circulating on social media. Among the experts there are dramatically varying opinions.

Some remain cautious, claiming that an effective vaccine could be years away, while others predict that one or more vaccines could be available within months. Conspiracy theorists make wild and sometimes bizarre statements, with Pop queen, Madonna, telling her fifteen million followers on Instagram that a vaccine had been available for months but was being held back, with ‘people in power’ standing to benefit financially from the delay. The post has since been deleted.

What are the ethical implications?

What has become clear is that the most advanced vaccine projects, including the one based at Oxford University, are moving into large-scale trial periods, in which less common side effects or safety issues should become apparent. Side effects to vaccines can cover a wide range of ailments. Most of these, many in the medical profession would claim, are not necessarily a significant barrier to receiving the vaccine. But some side effects are rare and might not emerge until there is a population-scale deployment of a vaccine, as was the case with the Pandemrix vaccine given to six million people in the UK during the 2009-10 outbreak of swine flu.

It was later found to cause the debilitating sleep disorder, narcolepsy, in approximately one in every 55,000 vaccinated individuals. These individuals were primarily young people, and this is not the only case of a vaccine throwing up dangerous side effects. Scientists, therefore, proceed with the utmost caution, and when a vaccine does become available there are many worldwide who will want to know much more about the long-term effects of the drug before accepting the vaccine. And some never will accept it.

What our surveys show

The confused picture and the conflicting claims are reflected in our findings. Only a minority think a vaccine will soon be found, and the remainder are fairly evenly split between being pessimistic and unsure. However, the question of whether a future vaccine against Covid-19 should be compulsory throws up fascinating findings, with 60% saying they do not believe in compulsory vaccination.

But with half of those thinking there should be some sort of restrictions placed on those who do not comply with guidance, it begs the further questions of what those restrictions might be and how might they be implemented? And finally, just as in the case of the annual flu jab and other recommended vaccines, a significant number of us – around a quarter – have a continuing mistrust of the safety of vaccines in general, and it is likely that many of those would refuse a Covid-19 jab if offered or recommended. 

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