THE PROGRESSION from discovering Covid-19 and producing a vaccine in less than a year was likened to ‘putting a man on the moon’ by frontline Hagley doctor David Nicholl during a question and answer session about the pandemic.
Politics and Pandemics: What happens next? took place on Zoom and also featured Bromsgrove’s Prof Willem van Schaik, the University of Birmingham’s Director of the Institute of Microbiology and Infection.
A variety of topics relating to the Coronavirus were discussed during the informative hour-long session but, as expected, the main subject for questions was the new vaccine.
Click below to listen to ‘Politics and Pandemics: What happens next?’ Or click the play button on the picture at the top to listen on YouTube.
Both Dr Nicholl and Prof van Schaik moved to reassure people about the very quick turnaround of the jab as most drugs of this type take several years to develop and get to the approval stage.
Dr Nicholl said: “Anyone who knows the MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency) knows how stringent they are.”
Prof van Schaik, who described the vaccine’s arrival as ‘a phenomenal achievement’, added there were no corners cut and the reason why the vaccine took less than a year was because ‘so much money was thrown at the research’.
“Usually you also have to wait to get people who have the virus to come forward and undertake trials but when you are in the middle of a pandemic there are plenty of people – especially in the US where the trials for the Pfizer vaccine took place.”
He also praised the manufacturer for how ‘crystal clear’ the analysis and data was which helped speed up the process.
Both stressed more would be known in the coming months about the vaccine and its effectiveness because of the monitoring programme being carried out alongside the delivery on those who had received it.
Dr Nicholl said it was known the vaccine lessened the impact of the virus but it was not yet clear yet whether it stopped the spread of infection.
And he had a warning for people not to be complacent – even if they had been given the vaccine.
“We need to carry on following the regulations, wearing masks, washing our hands and ensuring social distancing.
“My advice to everyone would be not to change their behaviour and have a quiet Christmas.”
Other areas of discussion on the Pfizer vaccine, included the logistics because it needed to be stored at -70C, and the importance of making sure those who had the first dose returned three weeks later to have the second top-up jab.
“I also want to urge people not to call their GP or local hospital, the NHS will be in touch when it is your turn to be vaccinated,” added Dr Nicholl.Questions were asked about the Oxford and AstraZeneca vaccine, when that would be approved and why it was taking longer than the Pfizer one.
Prof van Schaik said the different approach to research – spreading the trials across several countries and presenting the data differently – meant it was not as straightforward to approve.
He predicted the Moderna vaccine – which the UK has 7million doses of on order – could arrive before the Oxford one and maybe before Christmas.
To put it into context, the UK has 40million doses of the Pfizer jab and 100million doses of the Oxford and AstraZeneca jab on order.
That prompted discussion by Dr Nicholl on the morality of some countries having more than double the amount of vaccines for their whole population while others had none.
Although the vaccine was the main topic, other issues discussed included the correlation between age and impact of Covid-19, how other countries had fared better in dealing with the pandemic and about preparations for future ones.
Prof van Schaik said: “It is believed the pandemic happened because the virus jumped from animals to humans – in this case bats in China.”
He added it was similar to how HIV, flu and Ebola spread and put it down, at least in part, to climate change and over-population.
“The more interaction between humans and animals, the more a perfect storm is created for a pandemic.
“This has been the worst one in a long time but it won’t be the last.
“The Governments did not listen to the WHO (World Health Organisation) although the detection of Covid-19 has been pretty effective.”
He added constant monitoring was needed to lookout for future pandemics and stressed the importance of countries having sufficient Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) supplies – an issue which proved problematic during Covid-19.
Dr Nicholl added: “With more global travel, we will have more pandemics – Spanish Flu (the last large pandemic in 1918) came about because of US soldiers’ arrival to Spain on a boat.
“We have to make sure when pandemics do arise, we are ready for them.”