An injection of hope

The announcement of interim results of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine gets the world talking about an exit strategy

vaccine bottles
Getty/ beijingstory

It was the moment we had been hoping for. And the nation’s collective sigh of relief at the news that a coronavirus vaccine under development had been described as 90% effective was almost audible.

Speaking with an optimism that got BBC Radio Four World at One presenter Sarah Montague spinning in her chair, John Bell, regius professor of medicine at the University of Oxford, predicted "with confidence" that life could return to normal by Spring, following the announcement of interim results of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

Health secretary, Matt Hancock, was at pains to express in a statement in the House of Commons on Tuesday that the news is not an endpoint; instead it marks the beginning of the next phase in our approach to tackling the pandemic – with the primary care setting taking a crucial role.

“Our plans for deployment of a COVID vaccine are based on tried and tested plans for the flu vaccine, which we deploy every autumn. We do not know whether or when a vaccine will be approved. But I have tasked the NHS with being ready from any date from the 1 Dec.” he explained, adding: “The logistics are complex. The uncertainties are real. And the scale of the job is vast. But I know the NHS will be up to the task.”

In the statement, Mr Hancock also set out an approach for the rollout of the vaccine, with older care home residents and care home staff at the top of a list of who should be immunised first, along with health workers.

OT understands hospital optometry teams will be included in this first tier, and waits for clarification on whether community-based optometry is to be included.

The battle is being fought not just on the frontline of science, but in the public health and communication sphere. As Sarah Marsh writes in the Guardian, this will include addressing resistance to vaccines based on wide-ranging conspiracy theories.

Asked about the need to build and reinforce public confidence in the vaccine, England's deputy chief medical officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, speaking at a Downing Street news conference, said he will be encouraging his own mother to get a COVID-19 vaccine, stressing that safety standards will not be compromised because of the public health emergency.

As OT considers the key themes to investigate in print and online in 2021, it is clear so much will be viewed through the prism of the pandemic: how it has changed the way we work in practice, and how patient care is delivered.

What are the answers you’d like the OT team to go in search of? Please do get in touch with me with the list that matters most to you.