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5 COVID-19 Questions: Will the vaccine make the virus go away?

Nov 09, 2020 COVID-19 Share:

Thinking about COVID-19? We are too.

Ever since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, every sector of our lives has been upended by changes brought about by this new virus. And in spite of extensive media coverage, it can be challenging to keep up with all of the questions brought about from living life in a global pandemic.

We want to bring some clarity to the confusion by discussing five questions you’re probably asking about COVID-19.

Did you miss our previous questions? Catch up below:

Will the vaccine make the virus go away?

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, a vaccine has been considered the solution to getting life back to normal. With frequent promises of a vaccine by the end of 2020 or early 2021, many are hopeful that COVID-19 will disappear soon. In truth, the answer is much more complicated.

Previous attempts at a coronavirus vaccine

Coronaviruses of different types have circulated for as long as we have been able to identify them. These coronaviruses cause many forms of the common cold that plague us every year. They also cause the SARS and MERS viruses. Despite their prevalence for years and the advances in medicine and vaccines, there is no vaccine for any coronavirus, past or present.

Vaccines are so difficult to develop for coronaviruses because these viruses infect the upper respiratory tract.1 Like your skin, your upper respiratory tract (nasal cavity, mouth, throat, larynx) usually operates as a barrier to viruses. When the cells of your upper respiratory tract get infected, it is both difficult and dangerous to mount an immune response to this protective barrier.

Problems with previous vaccine attempts

Researchers attempted to develop a vaccine for SARS and MERS in the past; however, the vaccines triggered an immune response to the protective cells in the lungs and caused more damage than protection. The risk of damage from a vaccine is compounded when you consider the reality of little known consequences of infection to most healthy people under the age of 50. One positive note is that the diverse strategies being used to develop the COVID-19 vaccine are unique compared to prior coronavirus vaccine trials.

Historically, the potential to obtain long-term or even lifelong immunity from either an infection or a vaccine for a coronavirus is not promising. Based on our knowledge of other similar viruses, immunity from an infection may last months to even years, but never decades. This could mean that a potentially harmful vaccine could also need to be administered many times throughout years of life.

Is faster really better?

Lastly, although this has been touted as the fastest development of a vaccine in the history of science, the speed of development itself should inspire caution rather than excitement. Scientists, the media, government officials, and the general public are all championing the quick progress towards a magic solution. However, speedy development historically has had unintended consequences. Speed is rarely rewarded in medical progress.

If a vaccine is approved and made available, it is important to view this vaccine in context to assess the risk-benefit ratio. It will be a unique situation in which real, long-term data is unknown, and for healthy people, the risk of the harm from the infection itself is exceedingly low.

In the event of effective vaccine development, the most likely scenario will be a risk-based deployment strategy that will likely favor the older and more vulnerable. The idea of early, safe, universal vaccination sounds too good to be true. And it is.

COVID-19 toolkit

Given the difficulties and risks in developing a coronavirus vaccine, it is surprising that the go-to answer for the broader public and the media is, “We need a vaccine,” or, “Once we have a vaccine.” A vaccine should be considered a possible tool in our toolbox for dealing with COVID-19, not the only tool. History indicates that the more likely scenario is an ineffective vaccine or no vaccine at all. Sadly, there are very few policies or contingency plans being developed for this likely outcome.

What now?

COVID-19 is a new virus. It’s normal to feel confused, especially when the messaging is often conflicting and biased. At MedHelp, we’re here for you when you have questions about your health. Established patients are always welcome to contact their physician with any questions they may have and receive an answer in about 24 hours.

Did you miss one of our other questions on COVID-19? Check them out below:

Concerned about COVID-19?

We offer safe and convenient curbside testing for COVID-19 at each of our five locations. A telehealth screening is required before testing.


References:

1Haseltine, W. (2020, June 22). The Risks of Rushing a COVID-19 Vaccine. Retrieved September 04, 2020, from https://www.scientificamerican...

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