On Tuesday, November 24 at 19:30 GMT:
More than 1.3 million people have now died of COVID-19 – and the death toll is rising by thousands each day as fresh waves of the virus sweep different parts of the world.
But there are some hopeful signs for 2021. US pharmaceutical company Pfizer and German immunotherapy firm BioNTech say their forthcoming vaccine showed a 95 percent efficacy rate at the end of late-stage trials. US biotech company Moderna says preliminary trial results suggest its own vaccine has a 94.5 percent efficacy rate. And AstraZeneca says its vaccine, co-developed with the University of Oxford, has up to 90 percent efficacy.
Pfizer and Moderna now await US federal government approval before they make tens of millions of doses available. Public health professionals are hopeful that mass vaccination programmes will go ahead in the US and other countries that have bought the breakthrough vaccines by the second-quarter of 2021.
Yet health experts say logistical challenges may blunt the effectiveness of vaccination programme efforts. Pfizer’s vaccine must be constantly kept at sub-zero temperatures – a challenge to US rural regions hit hard by the virus where cold chain delivery and storage is already scarce. And while the speedy development of Covid-19 vaccines has been applauded by governments around the world, many people are wary that the long-term effects of such vaccines – especially those using new mRNA technology – are unknown. Polls in the US suggest public confidence in Covid-19 vaccines is limited.
Then there are concerns over global vaccine equity. The advance purchase of billions of Pfizer and Moderna vaccine doses by high-income countries such as the US, UK, Japan, Canada and European Union member states will leave low-income countries with a protracted struggle to vaccinate their populations amid the most devastating pandemic since 1918. It is hoped that availability of the AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine through the COVAX initiative will help plug the gap.
In this episode of The Stream, we’ll be joined by a panel of health professionals to talk about what doctors have learned about the virus in 2020, what hopes they have for vaccines in 2021, and what challenges lie ahead. Join the conversation.
Dr Krishna Udayakumar, @krishna_u
Founding Director, Duke Global Health Innovation Center