Yet, while there is no doubt that the last twelve months have been challenging, remarkable progress has been made in the pharmaceutical world that will hopefully contribute to brighter times ahead for us all.
Chief of these has been the lightning-fast speed with which companies have responded to Covid-19 and brought several highly-effective vaccines to market across the world within a year.
This is no small feat when we consider the process of creating, testing and mass-producing a vaccine usually takes around a decade and even the mumps vaccine, the fastest one before this, took four years to develop.
Given this rapid timescale, public hesitation and apprehension regarding the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine have been inevitable. A recent study in Nature Medicine revealed fewer than three-quarters of respondents would consider taking the vaccine.
As vaccination programmes gather pace in the coming months, transparency throughout will be key in dispelling misinformation and building the trust of the public.
It is vital to remember that despite the swift pace of progression, safety and efficacy have not been compromised, and this can be attributed to several reasons.
Ongoing Studies: Scientists were not starting from scratch when it came to dealing with Covid-19 and had already undertaken vital work relating to the SARS outbreak in 2002 and MERS in 2012, both members of the coronavirus family.
This meant research and manufacture were boosted by existing data on the structure, genome, and life cycle of this type of virus.
Worldwide Cooperation: By its very nature, vaccine development is a slow, painstaking process.
However, given the highly infectious nature of Covid-19, time was a luxury that could not be afforded, and researchers quickly mobilized to share their coronavirus data with other scientists including vital information on genomic sequencing and clinical trials.
Funding: Pharmaceutical research is expensive. With early development estimated to cost tens of millions of dollars, funding streams are essential and often determine the success or failure of a product.
Given the prevalence of COVID-19, a unique combination of government and private sector financial backing proved essential in the development of vaccines.
In the U.S., Operation Warp Speed (OWS) partnered with multiple institutions, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to develop, manufacture, and distribute 300 million doses by early next year.
The European Commission also funded several vaccine candidates and worked with others in pledging $8 billion for COVID-19 research.
Meanwhile, the UK government’s Vaccine Taskforce was a significant contributor to a wide variety of vaccine research, including the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.
Rigorous Testing: Regulatory bodies such as the FDA and MHRA reviewed all clinical trial data meticulously before granting emergency use authorization.
This was boosted by the large number of volunteers who enrolled in the vaccine studies and testing phases, ensuring a broad range of demographics and subgroups, as well as the increased number of testing sites to collect large amounts of data.
Ongoing safety: COVID-19 vaccine research participants will be monitored for a further two years as normal life resumes. This long-term research will help paint a much fuller picture of the virus, the vaccine and the impacts of daily life on both.
Covid-19 has been a disease like no other and has changed so many different aspects of our daily life.
Vaccine research has risen to the challenge and changed to meet it head-on. The public realization of its commitment to safety at every stage will be vital in the widespread acceptance of essential vaccination programmes.
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