We are still some way from emerging out of the darkness of the coronavirus pandemic but guided by the bright lights of the newly emerging vaccines we can at least start to plot our way forward. Much has already been written about the new vaccines, including here on the (med)24 Journal. The achievements of scientists around the world in developing highly effective inoculations against Covid-19 are nothing short of extraordinary. Now we have a treatment for the virus, it will be down to the health authorities to distribute the treatment, healthcare providers such as (med)24 to apply it, and individuals to take it.
None of this will be easy. There are logistical problems in distributing medicines, some of which have to be stored at -70°C; there are finely balanced ethical and medical considerations about who should get the treatment first; and then there is perhaps the most difficult obstacle of all - the widespread public mistrust of vaccines.
So much has been written about the safety of vaccines that it would be impossible to do the subject justice here. In the UK, the National Health Service explains in the simplest possible terms how vaccines are not only safe but hugely important to public health. The message is echoed by the World Health Organisation and the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. What all these authorities also make clear is the need to weigh any imagined risks to health against the wider needs of society. For a vaccine to work effectively its use has to be widespread across the community.
To give just one example of what can go wrong if vaccine take-up falls, UK Government figures show that between 2015 and 2019 confirmed cases of measles, mumps and, to a far lesser extent rubella, have been on the rise across the UK. The cause has been directly pinned on the reduced uptake of the MMR vaccine due to now discredited and debunked scare stories linking the vaccine to autism.
The issue, of course, is not just a personal one. Deciding not to take a vaccine, against coronavirus or any other illness, is not just about personal freedoms, it is also something that has direct consequences on wider society and, as ever with such things, it is more likely to have a disproportionate effect on the elderly and vulnerable. A young, healthy adult may decide not to take the coronavirus vaccine on the not unreasonable assumption that even if there were to contract the illness it would be unlikely to amount to much more than a day or two in bed. This is correct but only up to the point. Because even if the healthy young adult was unlikely to suffer a serious case of the illness, they could inadvertently pass on the virus to someone with underlying health issues for whom the virus could be fatal.
The simple truth about vaccines is that they have saved millions of lives, at an extraordinarily low cost. Of course, some issues have occurred. Nothing in life is without risks, but any risks are extraordinarily low, hence why health officials are totally unanimous in recommending the take up of the vaccines.
The only differences that exist across the world public health officials and legislators are not to do with whether to take vaccines but how to take them and whether they should be made mandatory. In the UK, this seems highly unlikely meaning the decision on whether or not to be inoculated will, ultimately, be a personal one.
The good news is it really should not be a difficult decision to make. There are really only two variables to consider. Firstly, have I been lucky enough to be offered the vaccine? Secondly, have I had any medical advice not to take it?
Answer yes to the first question and no to the second and you should find yourself protected from Covid-19 for the foreseeable future. You will also be doing your bit to protect everyone else. It really is as simple as that.