Is vaccinating against Covid enough? What we can learn from other countries | Vaccines and immunisation
Three countries stand out for the effectiveness of their Covid-19 vaccination programs: Israel, Chile and the UK. All of them managed to vaccinate an impressively high percentage of their people, but everyone did very differently in fighting the disease.
Israel has done so well that it is resuming university lectures, concerts, and other mass gatherings, and has opened its restaurants and bars. In contrast, there are more and more cases of Covid in Chile and there are new lock restrictions.
Deaths and hospital admissions have fallen in the UK, but it remains to be seen what will happen when lockdown restrictions in England are eased from Monday. (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland each have their own easing schedules.) Will Britain follow Chile’s dire example or Israel’s happier precedent?
The nation will soon find out, although it should be noted that Israel and Chile are not the only ones providing helpful examples of how the fight against Covid-19 should be shaped in the months ahead. Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany, and many others offer important lessons.
Nevertheless, it is Chile that Great Britain warns the most severely. Health workers have provided initial thrusts to 37% of the population, but daily cases are still increasing sharply. Several reasons have been cited for this unexpected jump: the spread of more virulent strains of coronavirus from Brazil; increased numbers of Chileans traveling across the country; and the lower adherence to social distancing after the vaccination program gave people a false sense of security.
The importance of this last point was emphasized by Prof. Lawrence Young, a virologist at Warwick Medical School. “I think Chile shows the danger of relying only on vaccines. Vaccines are fantastic, but they will never be a solution in themselves, and what is happening in Chile warns us very clearly. “
In Santiago, people are standing in line for the second dose of their Covid vaccine. Despite a successful vaccination program, there has been a sharp increase in cases in Chile. Photo: Esteban Félix / AP
Prof. Stephen Griffin from Leeds University School of Medicine agreed. “You still need to get the cases under control during the vaccination. If you don’t, you will still be in trouble. “
Chile therefore reveals the dangers of vaccine hubris. In contrast, Israel shows the need for constant planning and readiness. Since the launch of the powerful vaccine, the company has launched a number of initiatives to keep its advances against Covid going. This includes a system of Green Passports that are issued to people who have either received both doses of the vaccine or have recovered from the disease and are therefore considered unlikely to be infectious. The plan is controversial and many have protested its imposition.
“For universities, however, it has helped get students back into classrooms where academics can teach students face-to-face,” said Linda Bauld, professor of public health at Edinburgh University. “These are the measures we need to discuss now so that we can be sure that we will open safely in the summer.”
Two other Israeli measures were also highlighted by Bauld. Antibody tests – which show whether a person has Covid antibodies from either a vaccine or a previous infection – enables international travelers coming to Israel to avoid quarantine. At the same time, health officials are considering giving older children vaccines once they have been approved by regulators. These initiatives show how far Israel is planning, Bauld added.
Other scholars point to examples from Australia and New Zealand. The former has had few cases, despite only launching its vaccination program a few weeks ago – thanks to the rapid closure of its borders last year and its carefully managed hotel quarantine system, which has reduced the spread of Covid to a miniscule level. In contrast, the UK’s deplorable test, trace and isolate system remains shaky and unproven – despite the fact that suppressing new outbreaks of Covid-19 once restrictions are lifted will be crucial. “To put it simply, we haven’t learned the importance of isolating infected people,” Griffin said.
Then there is the problem of vaccinating the world – because until that happens, Covid-19 will remain a threat and the UK will continue to be threatened. It therefore plays a role in delivering bumps around the globe.
Israeli musician Ivri Lider performs before an audience wearing face masks and showing a “green pass” for entry to a stadium in Tel Aviv last month. Photo: Oded Balilty / AP
Scientists estimate that more than 11 billion doses of vaccines will be required to double hit 70% of the world’s population – a number that would hopefully achieve some form of global herd immunity. However, recent figures show that the richest nations – which make up one fifth of the world’s population, including the UK – have already bought 6 billion cans, while the remaining poorer nations – four fifths of humanity – have only secured 2.6 billion.
Given this huge imbalance in vaccines, India and South Africa have asked the World Trade Organization to suspend patent rights on various Covid-19 techniques, vaccines and drugs to help them manufacture their own treatments to cope with the pandemic. The proposal has now been supported by more than 100 nations.
“We cannot repeat the painful lessons of the early years of the AIDS response, when wealthier countries recovered while millions of people were left in developing countries,” said Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Unaids, the United HIV / AIDS agency Nations in the journal Nature recently.
That point was endorsed last week by Dorothy Guerrero, Head of Policy at Global Justice Now, an NGO that advocates equitable access to vaccines. She accused rich countries of hoarding vaccines at the expense of low and middle income countries. “There is a quick and sure way to increase vaccination around the world: forego patents on Covid-19 vaccines and let countries produce their own batches. Countries like the UK need to step up. “
However, the European Union, Great Britain and many other Western states, along with large pharmaceutical companies, argue that surrendering patent rights would not help. They say that making vaccines involves following a series of careful, quality-controlled steps.
Negotiating the distribution of patent rights for these various processes would take too long. It would be better to ramp up vaccine production to the highest level and then give bursts out.
However, scientists stress that the world will not be safe from Covid-19 until global immunization has taken place. As the slogan says: Nobody is safe until everyone is safe. However, achieving this goal can take years.