All eyes on the UK

By Mike Baker

Is anyone else at least a little bit surprised by the news that a COVID-19 vaccine could be readily available on these shores before the end of the year?

And we’re not talking about that super shady Soviet serum Sputnik V, neither. No, this actually appears to be the real deal. Rubber stamped by the Queen of England herself!

Shipments of the coronavirus vaccine developed by American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech were delivered to the UK on Sunday, Dec. 6. Around 800,000 doses of the vaccine were in place for the start of a nationwide immunization program that began on Tuesday, Dec. 8. In total, the country has secured 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which officials expect will cover immunizing around 20 million people. 

This is the first recognized rollout of a COVID-19 vaccine since the world was gripped by the global pandemic back in March. To say there are a few people interested in seeing how it goes may be something of an understatement. 

In trials, the vaccine was shown to have around a 95 percent efficacy rate, meaning it has the ability to produce a desired or intended result. That’s likely about as good as we’re going to get with something like this. I can’t imagine there being too many scientists, doctors, chemists, or whatever coming out and saying their product will 100 percent cure whatever ailment they’re targeting. Certainly not for something as ubiquitous, as all-encompassing as COVID-19. 

Personally, I was shocked when I learned this rollout was a real thing that was actually going to happen. I wrote a column a few months back questioning the Russian government’s decision to push forward with development and mass rollout of Sputnik V. In it, I said a vaccine backed by global health bodies likely wouldn’t see the light of day in the western world until mid-to late 2021. And, hand on heart, I thought I was being rather ambitious estimating it would be that soon. 

Developing, testing and reviewing any potential vaccine is a long and arduous process that almost always takes years to complete. Even then, there is a constant need to study data after the fact. The mumps vaccine, considered to be the fastest ever approved by the World Health Organization, took four years to go from collecting viral samples to licensing a drug back in 1967. Yes, science and technology has come on leaps and bounds since then, but it’s pretty telling that it’s been half a century and no other vaccine has beaten that four-year from start to finish record.

Well, perhaps until now. 

The United States is hoping to start its own vaccination program, using the same Pfizer/BioNTech product, later in December. In a recent interview with CBC, Sean Marett, the chief business and chief commercial officer of BioNTech, said his company could ship doses of the vaccine to Canada within 24 hours of Health Canada approving its use. The federal body is continuing to monitor the situation.

For the time being, all eyes will be on the UK. Should the mass rollout of the vaccine be successful, it won’t be long before the rest of the civilized world gets in line. 

Could this insane, near year-long nightmare finally be coming to a close? Man, I hope so.