As coronavirus vaccines roll out around the world, we asked the experts why you need a COVID-19 vaccine.
As coronavirus spread around the world early 2020, the race to create a vaccine against this entirely new disease – thought to have come from bats via another animal – kicked off. The COVID-19 vaccine program now being rolled out around the world was the fastest vaccine development in history.
Vaccines are carefully tested – first in lab research, then on animals, then in clinical trials of small populations of people, then larger populations. (Read more about how vaccines are developed and approved on the Aust Govt website). Typically, vaccine development takes around a decade.
“The vaccines being offered in Australia will provide a new level of protection for our community,” says Professor Tania Sorrell, Academy Fellow and University of Sydney infectious diseases researcher.
“Now we have the tools to help save lives and reduce the social and economic impact of the pandemic.”
Worried about vaccines?
Some people worry about getting vaccinated or are opposed to it – anti-vaxxers, who are typically parents who decide not to vaccinate their children.
Health literacy researcher at the University of Sydney, Professor Kirsten McCaffery, says it’s important to get the messaging right to diverse audiences, and to be respectful and focus on the big picture when sharing information on vaccines.
“Being respectful of people who feel uncertain about the vaccine will be important as well as being responsive to their questions and needs.
“There is a risk of over focusing on a small minority who are strongly opposed to vaccination. This is a time for the community to come together and recognise the remarkable achievement of the vaccines that will help us get back our lives to a better normal.”
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Why you need a COVID-19 vaccine
Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is an important step, but we’ll still need to follow health advice to beat the pandemic. Professor Brendan Crabb, Director of Melbourne’s Burnet Institute says we need to maintain public health measures.
“Vaccinating our population, and that of the rest of the world, will take quite a bit of time, so it is critical that for the foreseeable future we continue to use public health measures, including physical distancing, hand hygiene, the judicious use of face masks, good ventilation and effective controls at international borders.”
So how do vaccines work? Vaccines train our immune system to recognise SARS-CoV-2, the virus that caused COVID-19. This short animation from the Oxford Vaccine Group explains it.
No-one likes getting a needle, but it’s a small pinprick of annoyance that can save your body from a lot of illness later on.
Many hundreds of Australian researchers contributed to every aspect of the fight against COVID-19, says Prof Ingrid Scheffer, from the University of Melbourne.
“This includes helping to stop its spread through evolving evidence-based public health measures, improving treatments, developing vaccines, supporting informed communication and reducing the social effects on disrupted families and communities.
“We have seen an incredible response to the pandemic by the world’s health and medical research community. At the beginning of 2020, COVID-19 was an unfolding threat of unknown proportions.
“Today, just over 12 months later, we have a suite of vaccines supported by robust diagnostic tests, public health measures, and steadily improving treatments for severe COVID-19 disease.”
Here’s how three Australian STEM professionals took action during COVID:
- Biomedical engineer Mary Poniard is making sure 2000 new ventilators for Australian intensive care wards are ready to care for COVID-19 patients.
- Hospitals are employing experts like data scientist Jane Shrapnel to help them save lives by digging into the data.
- ANSTO scientist Eleanor Campbell has assisted a number of researchers who are trying to develop drugs to combat COVID-19.
Author: Heather Catchpole
Heather co-founded Careers with STEM publisher Refraction Media. She loves storytelling, Asian food & dogs and has reported on science stories from live volcanoes and fossil digs