We need to talk about COVID-19 vaccine challenges – Misinformation and Distribution

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Mr. Lucas Queiroz, a third-year medical student at Universidade de São Paulo (FMUSP), in São Paulo, Brazil. He is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

Safe and effective vaccines will help to lower the spread of the virus. However, daunting challenges lie ahead. Besides promising, we must understand that the vaccine does not guarantee a quick end to the pandemic.

How will risk groups be identified? If you turn up at a health center, how will they know if you’re in a priority group? How will we trace people for a second dose? How will we quickly distribute millions of doses?

Efficient communication between government and population is mandatory to achieve mass vaccination . It’s unclear which groups will be prioritized and why. A misinformed population poses the risk of agglomerations and shortages. Concurrently, confronting anti-vaccine groups and fake news on social networks is crucial to prevent hesitation to be vaccinated and to ensure adherence. Those hesitant people will need their concerns addressed, including worries about safety, common side effects expected, and what rare side effects may appear.

Simply trying to shame them into getting a vaccine won’t work; they’ll need to be persuaded.

To build confidence in vaccine efficiency, we need companies and their research partners to ensure transparency, publish data, and engage in open discussion. What we know about the latest vaccine trials has been communicated through press releases and media interviews, rather than through research papers subjected to independent peer review.

We don’t have all the answers. There is still plenty of work for researchers and clinicians to do. It’s not yet possible to know whether vaccine effects are long-lasting, which will define the need for re-vaccination in the future. Most studies have been carried out in populations over 18 years, therefore, vaccines cannot be used in children, adolescents, in addition to pregnant women and lactating mothers. It’s also not clear to what extent the vaccines prevent those who have been vaccinated from transmitting the virus. Masks will remain as clothing pieces for a while.

Vaccine distribution poses an immediate logistical challenge. Obstacles are several: producing all the doses required, shipping and storing them at cold temperatures, and then administering them to people. As each person needs two doses, difficulties are doubled.

A mass vaccination campaign will require enormous effort and organization of health services to guarantee the adherence of the high population contingent to be vaccinated in a short term. This will require the identification of vaccinated people to monitor the evolution of the vaccination. Also, it will be necessary to surveillance adverse events, to ensure safety throughout the process.

The whole process will require considerable money from the federal government, as local and state governments are cash-strapped from dealing with the ongoing economic downturn brought on by the pandemic.

Similarly, once vaccine prices start to increase, the poorest countries might not be able to buy the needed doses. Making the vaccine unaffordable would not only be morally wrong but would also be short-sighted, as these places are where COVID-19 hits the hardest.

There is still much difficult terrain to cross, but the finish line is already in sight.

This article is brought to you in association with the European Commission.

In the midst of political disputes, the vaccine against COVID 19 arrived in Brazil. The president of the country, on several occasions in his speeches, described how vaccines were produced, mainly, CORONAVAC, in which he mocked that the vaccine would be “aligátor” whoever used it and he himself will not vaccinate. Today, the Ministry of Health is facing difficulties in crediting vaccination. Initially, information about effectiveness for the lay public in order to encourage the use, did the opposite: it generated more suspicion. The complexity of interpreting the numbers and outcomes provided was what causes it. They would be to disseminate a short phrases like “When you get vaccinated, you have 50% less to be contaminated than who was not vaccinated”. That point, the São Paulo government’s failure to communicate with the population about the effectiveness of its research is clear.

So far, there is no campaign itself, that is, the dissemination is focused on informing the quantity of doses, people vaccinated in the states, place of origin the vaccine, input agréments, a population continues to receive vaccination. A parody made by Mc Fioti stands out, extolling the  institute responsible for making CORONAVAC in Brazil (Instituto Butantan/SP). Vaccination of opinion makers, more information about vaccines in informal language and more easy to understand are necessary for well vaccination coverage in Brazil.

About the author

Lucas Queiroz is a third-year medical student at Universidade de São Paulo (FMUSP), in São Paulo, Brazil. He is currently an active member and the Local Communication and Marketing Auxiliary Director of IFMSA Brazil FMUSP.

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