Yesterday was a good day
It’s hard to overstate how important yesterday’s approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency is. Hailed as “a significant step in tackling COVID-19 and an incredible achievement by all involved” by the government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, it opens the door to a return to normality, albeit not immediately.
The vaccine has been developed in less than a year, remarkable given the previous record was four years for the mumps vaccine and typically vaccines have taken upwards of a decade to develop (including 28 years for the flu vaccine).
It also utilises new technology - mRNA ( short for messenger RNA) - which “injects genetic instructions into the body that tell cells to make viral proteins that prime the immune system”, as opposed to traditional vaccines which “typically use a weakened version of the pathogen or a protein piece of it, but because these are grown in eggs or cells, developing and manufacturing vaccines takes a long time”.
The fight is far from over though. The vaccine needs to be stored at -80C which makes distribution logistically challenging, there are 66 million people in the UK (and 7.8 billion globally) to be vaccinated, and conspiracy theories will need to be consistently debunked to maintain public confidence in the vaccine. So in the short term continued adherence to social distancing measures will be critical.But for now let’s reflect on how an international effort has delivered a solution for all humanity at unprecedented speed. It shows that when we put our mind to it, the unthinkable can become possible.