WILL A VACCINE SAVE TRAVEL:
The arrival of a successful vaccine won’t wipe out COVID-19, but individual inoculations will fast-track the recovery of the travel industry, says the head of the University of the West Indies COVID-19 Taskforce.
Whereas Clive Landis says a 90 percent global inoculation rate will likely be required to curtail the “relatively infectious” COVID-19 (compared to 95 percent to effectively mitigate measles), the viral disease scientist says, “Let me stress, we can relieve our pain in the tourism sector with much less.”
In fact, the percentage of vaccination coverage required, Landis says, would be “relatively low” because it would only apply to actual travellers, who would be vaccinated before their journey.
“People can simply travel with their vaccination certificate, like you would for yellow fever,” he says. “Not many people have yellow fever, but if you’re going to go to a country that requires (a vaccination), you just get it. Countries… would simply require that you carry your vaccination book and show that you are vaccinated against COVID-19.”
As such, he adds, “(Vaccinations) can resolve the issues of the travel industry very quickly.”
So, when will that vaccine arrive?
Landis, speaking during an online presentation at the recent Caribbean Recovery Forum, organized by the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), said aggregated global data suggests that the best-case scenario is by the end of the year. But, he added, “The vast majority of forecasts are in 2021. That is when we expect vaccines to be developed and available for the public.”
His assessment has been corroborated by German health minister Jens Spahn, who says that he expects a vaccination for the coronavirus to be ready to start rolling out in the first quarter next year, with the hope of beginning to vaccinate the most at-risk group of Germans in the first months of 2021.
“As things stand today, Oct. 12, I assume that we’ll be able to begin in the first quarter of next year,” he said, adding, “If all the horses reach the finish line, we will have far too much vaccine.”
Landis acknowledges that some of the more pessimistic forecasts for a vaccine are for 2022 and 2023, and also warns, “Even when you have the vaccine, you’re really not all the way there. Because if the vaccine is not considered acceptable and people in the public do not wish to take the vaccine, then you’re going to lose the benefits.”
Which will almost certainly be the case, he surmises, as more and more people demonstrate vaccine skepticism – a behaviour that, despite unqualified vaccine success against the likes of smallpox, polio and measles in the 20th century, became prevalent in 1998 after a discredited paper linked a vaccine to autism, subsequently amplified on social media and by some prominent individuals like Donald Trump.
The professor points to the hard-core anti-vax movement in the US, which is reflected in surveys stating that 10 percent of Americans will “never” take a vaccine, with a further 30 percent unsure.
A recent Leger poll in Canada, meanwhile, suggested that only 39 percent of respondents believed that vaccinations against COVID-19 should be mandatory – a figure that has plummeted 20 points since May.
However, Landis points out that vaccines have saved 58 million lives this century alone, adding, “We must never forget that vaccines have really done a tremendous amount and we must never forget what the disease was like.”
Landis qualifies his optimism with the explanation that any potential vaccine “has to be safe and demonstrated to be safe” based on the conclusion of successful “phase 3” trials (typically of between 40,000 and 60,000 participants).
He says there are about 250 vaccine trials currently “in the pipeline” around the world, but warns that some of the high profile reports – including the possible development of a safe vaccine before the US election in November, and approvals in Russia – are merely “stunts” that only serve to undermine public confidence and that he is really only counting on reputable pharmaceutical companies to do the job properly; and that means spending a requisite amount of time (at least six months) on the clinical trials – some of which are already in phase 3.
But Landis explained to Travel Industry Today that the nature of the COVID protein (as compared to “trickier” HIV, which is often cited in comparison to COVID as a virus that has not been solved in over 30 years) gives “confidence these vaccines will work” and that they may even be able to provide immunity for three to five years.
And with so many candidate vaccines, he adds, “It raises the probability of finding a vaccine that will give immunity for life.”
First published at Travel Industry Today