The future of vaccines – the impact of Covid-19

As the positive news of the Oxford Covid-19 vaccine emerges this week, it got us thinking about the impact Covid-19 will have on vaccine perceptions and behaviours both in the short and long-term.

There are over 160 vaccines currently in development and with the world watching closely to see who will win the race, the dialogue around vaccines is dramatically increasing.

What are the implications of Covid-19 on short term uptake of vaccines?

We already know that there have been implications for vaccinations, with the NHS reporting decreased uptake of childhood vaccines. This impact has also been witnessed across the globe due to a combination of: household isolation, Covid-19 related illness, disruption of vaccine supply and healthcare shortages.

Unicef and the WHO have warned that Covid-19 could erase decades-worth of global vaccine coverage, with more than 25 countries putting their vaccine programmes on hold. Could this lead to a rise of preventable conditions when lockdown restrictions are lifted?

In the longer term, what are the anticipated bigger implications?

Will we hold vaccines in higher regard?

For some this pandemic has been an insight into what a vaccine-free world could look like, and the importance of vaccinations has been elevated. Additionally, with preliminary studies suggesting the BCG vaccination may be associated with lower Covid-19 mortality rates, is this the incentive that’s needed to encourage vaccination more broadly?

Numerous governments are also pushing the pro-vaccine movement, with drives for large-scale flu vaccination programmes. Traditionally flu vaccination rates have been low – Canada, for example, is aiming for 80% of the population to have their flu vaccination, but is currently only at 20%. Whilst these programmes are primarily designed to reduce the burden on healthcare systems over the winter, they may also provide us with a clearer picture of Covid-19 upticks, with less flu symptoms and cases ‘muddying the water’.

What will Covid-19 do for vaccine scepticism?

A recent Reuters poll found that a quarter of Americans have little or no interest in taking a Covid-19 vaccine. For some, the speed at which the Covid-19 vaccine efforts are moving is throwing fuel onto the fire with doubts as to how thorough clinical trials are. For others, increased distrust in the government and their recommendations is the driving force.

Expectations are astronomically high with the Covid-19 vaccine positioned as our ticket back to normality. However with potential limited uptake could this reflect poorly on the benefits of vaccination? Will Covid-19 reinvigorate the anti-vaccine movement?

Will Covid-19 trigger innovation in vaccine development?

Is Covid-19 the catalyst vaccination development teams needed to drive innovation? We have already seen Covid-19 playing a key role in transforming vaccine-enabling technologies, manufacturing processes and clinical trials.

Clinical trials, for example, are currently a hot topic of debate. With levels of Covid-19 decreasing in many of the countries developing the vaccine, developers are not only reaching out to worse-hit areas (such as Brazil and South Africa), but there has also been a push from some scientists to consider ‘Human challenge trials’. In challenge trials volunteers are deliberately exposed to the virus to support the acceleration of results. This has triggered an ethical debate, as while these trials have been done before in other conditions, they are only typically conducted when an effective treatment is available.

Is Covid-19 the trigger to disrupt behaviours and perceptions towards vaccinations?

Although a lot of unanswered questions remain, what is clear is that Covid-19 will have far reaching implications for how the vaccine landscape will look both in the short and longer term.

With the vaccine debate more pertinent than ever, this time of disruption is an opportunity for pharma and vaccine developers to innovate their marketing strategies and pivot behaviours and perceptions towards vaccinations.

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