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Episode #15 - COVID-19 - Vaccine distribution

03 December 2020 | Science conversation

Summary

Now the world is getting closer to a vaccine for COVID-19, how will these vaccines reach you?WHO’s Dr Katherine O’Brien explains COVID-19 vaccine distribution in Science in 5.

Podcast

Transcript

Vismita Gupta-Smith

Now the world is getting closer to a vaccine for COVID-19, how will these vaccines reach you? Welcome to Science in 5. I’m Vismita Gupta-Smith and this is WHO’s conversations in science. Explaining this today is WHO’s Dr Katherine O’Brien. Welcome, Kate.

Dr Katherine O’Brien

Thank you so much. I'm so happy to be with you today.

Vismita Gupta-Smith

Kate now that we're getting closer to a successful vaccine, how will these vaccines reach everyone?

Dr Katherine O’Brien

You know, in the past few weeks we've had these amazing announcements of vaccines that have been reported to prevent disease. And this is the first time we've really had that kind of data in front of us. The next thing that needs to happen is these vaccines have to pass through the regulatory process after a close scrutiny of the data. And then the question is, how are they going to get to everybody who needs these vaccines? In every country, around the world, there are plans

going on now for a program to actually immunize people who most need these vaccines. And it's really important for people to understand that the vaccines are going to be in limited supply, at least initially in the beginning of the rollout. So, it's not going to be as if everybody immediately is going to be able to get vaccine. There does need to be prioritization of which groups most need the vaccines first. So, the priority groups are health workers who are at high or very high risk of COVID. And then people who are in older age groups, who have been the people who have been most at risk of severe disease or death. And following that, people who have underlying medical conditions that would put them at risk, again, of severe disease or death. And those are the first sort of three categories that are recommended.

Vismita Gupta-Smith

Kate, WHO has said that even after we have a successful vaccine, we will need to keep observing the precautions. Explain that, please.

Dr Katherine O’Brien

When we start to roll out the vaccine there won’t, as I said, there won't be enough vaccine in the initial phases to immunize everybody right away. The second thing is that we don't actually know for how long the protection of these vaccines will last. The studies that have been reporting the results of protection against disease are really fantastic results. But by necessity, they've only been able to follow up people for a period of months following their immunization. We really do need to know whether or not these vaccines last for only a period of months in terms of their protection or potentially years. So, because both of the supply issues and because of the duration of protection issues, and because it's going to take time for everybody to be vaccinated, who needs to be vaccinated, we shouldn't expect that we're going to be able to just stop all of the interventions, all of the measures that we're taking now to protect ourselves, our families and our communities against COVID.

Vismita Gupta-Smith

So Kate, countries are working to provide access to vaccines, even routine immunization, what are some of your concerns? What are the risks you see with distributing the COVID-19 vaccine?

Dr Katherine O’Brien

Well, you're right. Every country around the world has an immunization program, and this will be the foundation for all of the operations that need to take place to distribute a COVID vaccine in a country. But because of the nature of COVID vaccines, there are going to be challenges that every country is going to face. And some of the first challenges are dealing with the cold-chain equipment. Some of the vaccines require special equipment to keep the vaccines really cold, others just require refrigeration temperatures or usual freezing temperatures. The second thing that we're really going to be facing is this is an adult vaccine, as I've explained before, we're going to be rolling out first in adults. And that's not primarily where most countries have the experience of immunization programs in every community, in every facility. So, learning how to have an adult program is also going to be a challenge for many countries. And, the third is that a vaccine that sits on the shelf is not useful. These vaccines really need to get into people. And that is absolutely about community engagement and individual confidence and individual willingness and understanding of the benefit of the vaccines and the safety of the vaccines. I think those are probably the first three issues that we're going to have to tackle.

Vismita Gupta-Smith

Thank you, Kate. That was Science in 5 today. Remember to share this information with your networks, with your friends and be the source of trusted, evidence-based information. Until next time then. Stay safe, stay healthy and stick with science.

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