Virus here to stay even with a vaccine - British chief scientific adviser

A vaccine may not protect us from the virus entirely. Picture: Mario Tama/Getty Images/AFP
Even if we have a vaccine, coronavirus may never disappear and it could resurge every year like the flu, a top chief scientific adviser has warned.

Even if the world’s scientists are able to create a safe and effective vaccine, coronavirus will probably never disappear and will resurge every year like the flu – the chief scientific adviser to the British government has warned.

Sir Patrick Vallance said politicians and experts should stop “over-promising” what a vaccine could do – saying the “notion of eliminating COVID is not right” and the world will have to simply learn to live with the virus.

I mean, it is worth reflecting that there’s only one human disease that’s been truly eradicated, and that’s from the highly effective vaccine to smallpox, so it’s a very difficult thing to do, he told MPs and peers on Monday.
We can’t be certain, but I think it’s unlikely we will end up with a truly sterilising vaccine, something that completely stops infection, and it’s likely this disease will circulate and be endemic.

The disease becoming “endemic” means it would never really go away, despite a potentially successful vaccine helping to manage the situation.

Examples of illnesses caused by endemic viruses include common colds, flu, HIV, chickenpox, cold sores and malaria.

While they all have treatments or ways to protect people from catching them, the viruses cannot be completely wiped out because they’re already so widespread.

Take the seasonal flu for example, we have a vaccine for that which reduces our risk of getting seriously ill from virus.

However, the virus mutates rapidly – sometimes once a year or more – which means protection from previous vaccines do not last for long.

Sir Patrick said this may well become the case with coronavirus.

Clearly as management becomes better and you get vaccination, that would decrease the chance of infection and severity of disease, and this starts to look more like annual flu than anything else and that may be the direction we end up going, he said.
Even with a vaccine, this is something we’re going to need to manage.

Sir Patrick said that while a number of vaccine candidates cause an immune response, only phase three trials will show whether they stop people from being infected.

We will know that over the next few months, he said. And at that point we’ll also have some clearer idea on the safety profile of these vaccines, and from there can start looking at what a sensible vaccination strategy could be across the population.

He said that while there might be doses available sooner, it was unlikely a vaccine would be rolled out for use in the community before early 2021. Even this rate of developing a vaccine is “extraordinary”.

If you think about the previous history of vaccines, the average time it’s taken to make a vaccine from scratch is about 10 years and it’s never been done before in under about five years, at the very quickest, he said.
We’re now in an extraordinary situation where there are at least eight vaccines that are in quite large clinical studies around the world, some of which will start to read out from their end stage clinical studies over the next few months so we will know, I think, over the next few months whether we have any vaccines that really do protect and how long they protect for.

Sir Patrick’s warning came as Britain recorded another 18,804 COVID-19 cases and 80 deaths as both infections and fatalities continue to creep upwards.

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