Stephen McNeice
Stephen McNeice

08.58 21 Nov 2020


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It could be another year before some people receive a coronavirus vaccine, a Trinity College immunologist has said.

Professor Cliona O'Farrelly says we should definitely be 'hopeful and excited' about the recent vaccine announcements, but there's a 'huge task' ahead in producing and distributing them.

It was confirmed yesterday that Pfizer and BioNTech have submitted their vaccine candidate for emergency use authorisation in the US, after the companies said trial results showed their vaccine was 95% effective.

The firms have also begun the process of submitting their vaccine for approval in Europe and elsewhere in the world.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin told Virgin Media News that there could be authorisation from EU and US regulatory authorities by the second half of December.

Cliona O’Farrelly, Professor of Comparative Immunology at Trinity College Dublin, spoke to Newstalk Breakfast with Susan Keogh about the latest developments.

She said: "It's so exciting, because us immunologists were really very doubtful that a vaccine against this virus would be possible - and especially in this time-frame.

"It's just astonishing that the news came in the last few weeks of very strong results from two vaccines, and there's likely to be news from Oxford very soon.

"It is really early days - everybody needs to know that. The results aren't published in scientific journals... they haven't been completely analysed."

Professor O'Farrelly said there's still a lot to know, and then there's the issue of logistics to think about.

She observed: "I know the industries have been really priming themselves up and they claim they'll be ready to deliver millions of doses. When you think of the amount that's needed, it's a huge task to get that made properly and well.

"It certainly will be months before it's rolled out, and maybe even a year before some of us get it."

She said she'd be 'astonished' if anyone in Ireland was getting vaccinated in early 2021, but stressed she 'might be wrong' and there could be a rapid roll out.

Vaccine hesitancy

Amid concerns that some people may be reluctant to get a vaccine, Professor O'Farrelly said vaccine hesitancy is 'definitely a thing'.

However, she said it's 'so important' that vaccines are properly studied and the data is widely available.

She said: "I think everybody should be given a copy of the paper - they would see that one vaccine option actually did stimulate side effects, so it wasn't progressed any more.

"That would give you some confidence that the study was done properly."

For now, Professor O'Farrelly suggested we need to be prepared for living with the virus for a while yet - and therefore we can't let our guard down.

She said: "The possibility of a vaccine just over the horizon is definitely lifting the spirits and making everybody much more hopeful... and doesn't everyone love Christmas? So of course there's going to be a massive uptick in infections unless we really, really try hard.

"It's going to be very tough... but if we don't pay attention more people will die."

Main image: File photo of someone receiving a vaccine. Picture by: Johan Nilsson/AP/Press Association Images

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