‘We run the chance that a corona vaccine is only moderately effective’

The whole world is eagerly looking forward to the moment when well-functioning coronavaccines are available. The EU expects large numbers of vaccinations to be delivered in April. But experts temper expectations and point out the possible bumps and pitfalls.

Predicted: the two experts surveyed are optimistic that the vaccines will make an important contribution to the fight against the virus. โ€œIt‘s great that we’ve come this far in a short time,โ€ says Marc Bonten, OMT member and doctor-microbiologist at UMC Utrecht.

It is unprecedented that, so soon after the start of a pandemic, there are several vaccines in the final test phase. โ€œOnly we run the chance that the vaccines purchased are only moderately effective. In that case, we must also bear in mind that it does not protect enough to prevent patients from entering the ICU.โ€

This is because vaccines are tested on healthy and often younger people for safety reasons. According to Bonten, the question is how well such a prick ultimately works on people in the risk group if it had an effect on, for example, half of the people in the test phase.

Group Immunity?

โ€œ With moderate effectiveness, it may also be insufficient to achieve the group immunity that we so hope for,โ€ explains Bonten. For group immunity, it is estimated that 60 to 70 percent of the population should have antibodies against covid-19.

The body produces antibodies and so-called T-cells after infection or later by vaccination. Antibodies clean up the virus and T-cells do so in infected body cells. But how many people become immune to the virus and for how long, that is not yet to be said for the vaccines ordered by the EU from six pharmaceuticals.

Normally, laboratories have much more time to develop a vaccine, says Professor of Immunology Marjolein van Egmond (Amsterdam UMC). โ€œWith the knowledge of today, developers have started to work and that doesn‘t necessarily have to produce the best vaccine.โ€

In theory, it is possible, for example, that vaccinated persons become ill less often, but for example remain contagious to others. Nothing is known about harmful side effects either. Although the immunologist emphasises that it is safe to use because of the high standards in Europe once a vaccine has been approved.

What can we expect from these vaccines?

It is to watch coffee grounds until test phase 3 is completed. But we know from tests that the agents produce antibodies and T-cells in subjects.

โ€œ There’s no reason to be pessimistic and think they‘re not going to work,โ€ says Van Egmond. โ€œIt’s extremely unlikely that all six vaccines will die.โ€

Bonten is also positive and considers that there is a real chance that at least one vaccine will provide 50 to 80 percent protection. Such a percentage indicates how much lower the risk of disease is in test subjects compared to the control group receiving placebo.

Should we fear mutation of the virus?

Spanish and Swiss researchers conclude that Europe is facing a different type of virus from that found in China at the end of last year. This adaptation may cause the virus to spread faster on this continent. The researchers say that this mutation does not affect the development of current vaccines.

Van Egmond and Bonten explain that it is inevitable that the coronavirus mutates. This also happens with the flu virus, for example. โ€œBut it seems that this coronavirus is not changing so quickly that the vaccines are no longer usable,โ€ says Van Egmond.

Bonten: โ€œIt is not something science can prepare for. It is only when a vaccine is used that we will see if the virus can escape it.โ€

Can we go back to normal?

Both experts think so. According to Van Egmond, vaccines can mean the light at the end of the tunnel. โ€œOnce there are, you can think of an exit strategy.โ€

According to her, new outbreaks are never completely ruled out, but she has good hopes that society will continue to return to pre-coronaphase. With the remark that large-scale festivals and meetings are probably the last things that become possible.

The better the vaccines work, the faster the situation can return to normal, says Bonten. Even if they are only partially effective, the resources will be used on a large scale.

โ€œ Everything is better than nothing. Hopefully, we can achieve enough to turn this pandemic into a sort of annual flu season.โ€