Science, policy and pandemics: Vaccines


30-06-2020

What do we know about covid-19 vaccine candidates under development? What is involved in the vaccine development, trial and innovation process? How will a successful vaccine be distributed?

In the latest of the University of Cambridge's Centre for Science and Policy (CSaP) series on science, policy and pandemics, CSaP Executive Director Dr Rob Doubleday was joined by Dr Caroline Trotter, Dr Estee Torok, and Dr Flavio Toxvaerd. They explored our current understanding of the immunology and of vaccines under development; challenges involved in vaccine distribution, and insights we have gained about innovation and knowledge exchange throughout the vaccine development process.

Listen to the discussion here>>>

Produced in partnership with Cambridge Infectious Diseases and the Cambridge Immunology Network, CSaP's Science and Policy Podcast's series on science, policy and pandemics aims to answer questions about our understanding of the current pandemic, including the epidemiology, on what basis governments are making current decisions, how much confidence we can have in the knowledge models are producing, and how to manage the uncertainties involved in the present crisis.

Throughout the discussion, Dr Torok noted that several groups around the world have been developing vaccines against covid-19. The speed at which these vaccine development processes and trials have been unfolding is unprecedented, and would have been "unthinkable a year ago". Throughout the conversation, our experts emphasised that the lessons learned from the accelerated pace of innovation throughout this crisis will continue to add value on the other side of this crisis. Here, Dr Doubleday noted that the common feature of some of the most scientifically productive times in history has been a sense of common purpose, something that has been seen throughout the scientific world throughout this pandemic.

When the time comes to deploy a successful vaccine candidate, our experts were quick to stress that deployment strategies will be impacted by the epidemic situation at the time. The phase of the epidemic, and how many doses are available, will influence who is immunised first. Here, Dr Toxvaerd also noted trade-offs between vaccinating those who are shielding first or vaccinating the young and healthy first to kick-start the economy.

With over a hundred vaccine candidates in clinical trials and more in preclinical studies, people are hedging their bets in terms of which vaccine candidate(s) will become successful. However, both Dr Torok and Dr Toxvaerd emphasised that whichever vaccines turn out to be the best, using the infrastructure to scale up production of a successful vaccine will rely on collaboration and cooperation. While Dr Toxvaerd noted that the principle of reciprocity should stop countries who develop successful vaccines from hoarding them, Dr Trotter also stressed the important role organisations such as GAVI and CEPI have to play in ensuring equitable distribution of vaccines in low and middle income contexts.

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The Centre for Science and Policy (CSaP) at the University of Cambridge is a new initiative that aims to cultivate stronger relationships between policymakers and experts in the sciences and engineering.

Centre for Science and Policy (CSaP), University of Cambridge