The UK and much of Europe is currently in the grip of a second national lockdown in a bid to stem a second wave of coronavirus. Faced with the prospect of intermittent shutdowns, overwhelmed ICU units and a faltering economy, Brits could be forgiven for feeling despondent of late. It is little wonder, then, that the news of highly effective vaccine has caused much brouhaha.
“The challenge of preparing manufacturing capacity has been partially addressed through vaccine manufacturers getting ready or already producing vaccines. However, a bigger challenge will be learning how to produce a vaccine and share the knowledge, so that a range of manufacturers can scale up quickly,” he said.
As Professor Spicer explained, vaccine manufacturers tend to protect their specialist knowledge because it gives them a competitive advantage but sharing this know-how between competitors will help scale up production.
The conditions that are needed to retain the vaccine’s effectiveness are another impediment.
As Professor Spicer explained, supply chains that allow the vaccine to be kept at very low temperatures are vital for it to remain effective.
He said: “A practical challenge in designing this supply chain involves so-called ‘last mile challenges’, which require careful thinking about how a vaccine gets from storage to administration.
“There are likely to be substantial unforeseen challenges involved in ensuring an effective vaccine can actually reach the people who need it.”
Professor Spicer said: “At least initially, there will be a limited supply of the vaccine. This poses a tough ethical question of who gets the vaccine first and how it should be decided – should it be people in most need, or those who can afford it?
As he pointed out, the ethical challenges could prove to be a recipe for scandal and civic district.
“Would government ministers, corporate CEOs or celebrities who get a vaccine early be accused of queue jumping?”
To circumvent this problem, one suggested model is the ‘fair priority’ model, whereby vaccines are first allocated on the basis of minimising immediate harms to health, then to reduce economic and social deprivation, and finally on a basis of returning to normal functioning, said Professor Spicer.
Marketing must effectively incentivise the public to take the vaccine, which is a big ask against the “growing anti-vaccination sentiment”, said Professor Spicer.
“Health services will need to convince people that it is in their best interests to be vaccinated, which means challenging erroneous information through flagging ‘fake news’, providing easily understandable facts and conducting educational campaigns,” he said.
Professor Spicer added: “Simply providing facts alone does not seem to convince ‘anti-vaxxers’. What does seem to work is framing messages in terms they find appealing – about purity and liberty – and using trusted people like family doctors to have the conversation around vaccines, rather than just pushing fact on them.”
The final hurdle is learning from the failures and achievements from the handling of the pandemic.
Professor Spicer explained: “When a crisis passes, it is easy for organisations and governments to go back to normal and forget many of the hard-won lessons they learned along the way. It is likely some of the technologies developed during the race for a vaccine will persist, there is also a danger that many of the mistakes which were made will be simply forgotten and repeated over again.”
He added: “If we are to avoid many of the problems experienced during the pandemic, it is vital these mistakes made by governments and organisations are clearly documented and encoded in organisational memory.
“There is a danger that if public health agencies are continually restricted and changed, they will lose much of this organisational memory.”