Dr Ronan Glynn, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Department of Health
2020 has been an incredibly difficult year for all of us.
However, 2020 has also been a year of incredible medical and scientific achievement in which a new illness has been characterised, its genome sequenced, and diagnostics and treatments have been developed.
Many are now asking, how has it all happened so quickly? Afterall, we know that, normally, it takes about 10 years to develop a new vaccine.
Traditionally, it has taken many years to develop a vaccine, confirm its safety and efficacy, and manufacture enough of it for public use.
This timeline has been really cut down for Covid-19 vaccine candidates. There are several ways this has been made possible.
First, some clinical trials have combined phases 1 and 2 to assess safety and the immune responses.
Second, because of the high number of new cases of Covid-19 in many places, differences in disease risk between those who received the viral vaccine and those who received the placebo or dummy vaccine could be measured more quickly than usual.
Third, there have been enormous levels of investment and scientific research, on a scale never previously seen in vaccine development.
Fourth, many of the processes which normally take place one after the other in vaccine development have instead been run in parallel. For example, large scale manufacturing of vaccines started even before the results of phase 3 trials were available. Similarly, regulators and those developing the vaccines started their conversations very early in the process so that the regulators were aware of developments and so that the process of authorisation can be as swift as possible.
None of these factors imply that safety, scientific or ethical integrity have been compromised, or that short-cuts have been made.
And now, subject to authorisation by the European Medicines Agency, Ireland is on the cusp of deploying at least two Covid-19 vaccines as part of a national vaccination programme. People should take great encouragement from these developments and we can be confident that the successful implementation of this programme will mark a significant advance in our approach to this pandemic. However, there are still many uncertainties and barriers to be overcome.
First and foremost, people must be willing to get vaccinated. Our research tells us that the majority have already decided that they will definitely (45%) or probably (28%) take the vaccine when it is offered to them while, at the other end of the spectrum, a small – but vocal - minority (5%) absolutely will not take it.
Many people will have very justifiable concerns and questions regarding the vaccines. In the beginning of the pandemic, if we can set our minds back to March/April, there were many questions about Covid-19 as rumours and misinformation spread. HSE.ie, Gov.ie/health and WHO were pillars of factual and reliable medical information. This is also the case as we learn more about the new vaccines developed, their safety and efficacy.
I encourage every individual, those vaccine hesitant as well as those vaccine confident, to stay informed using appropriate medical sources and do not be afraid to ask your GP questions about vaccine safety.
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