A laboratory technician holds a dose of a COVID-19 novel coronavirus vaccine candidate that’s ready for trial on monkeys at the National Primate Research Center of Thailand. (Mladen Antonov | AFP)

A laboratory technician holds a dose of a COVID-19 novel coronavirus vaccine candidate that’s ready for trial on monkeys at the National Primate Research Center of Thailand. (Mladen Antonov | AFP)

Opinion: We are not out of the COVID-19 woods yet

A COVID-19 vaccine promises a silver bullet, but only in the long-term

The first of several vaccines (Pfizer-BioNTech) in development for COVID-19 has shown an efficacy rate of 90 per cent in clinical trials.

It is currently before the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency approval and has been approved for use in the Unite Kingdom.

Americans could start getting their shots as early as next week and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that could be the case for Canada as well, assuming approval here happens in the next few days.

Still, it will be months before most of us are able to get the vaccine. And despite the COVID-19-fatigue so many of us are feeling and the appetite for the proverbial silver bullet a vaccine promises, that might not be such a bad thing.

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To be clear, we are 100 per cent in favour of an effective vaccine.

Efficacy is just the beginning, though. There are good reasons why vaccines are generally not rushed to market.

There are still a number of questions that remain unanswered.

In order to gain emergency approval, the manufacturer must provide two months of monitoring data indicating the vaccine is also safe.

Although the company has cleared that benchmark and there appears to be have been minimal short-term side effects, the sample size is relatively small and we don’t know, and won’t for some time, if there could be long-term complications.

We don’t know, and won’t for some time, whether people who have received the vaccine can still carry and spread the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

We don’t know, and won’t for some time, whether the innoculation imparts permanent or temporary immunity.

Of course, vaccines are a balancing act. If the risk, however miniscule, of getting one far outweigh the risks of developing the disease — which, when you look at the exploding transmission rates, rising death toll and all the associated systemic, economic and social implications, certainly appears to be the case — it is worth it.

The thing about silver bullets, though, is that they offer simplistic solutions to complex problems. Even if countries are able to roll out this vaccine on the proposed timeline, it will be many months before we can all get it.

It will not all of a sudden remove the need for other precautions although its existence may impart a false sense of security.

It also raises the question of why, in one of the most medically sophisticated countries in the world, we do not have the capacity to produce the vaccine ourselves.

In short, we are a long way from out of the woods, yet.

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