A vaccine against the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 seems to be on the horizon, but that does not mean life will soon go back to the way it was before, one scientist has warned.
Corinne Vandermeulen, head of the vaccinology centre at the university of Leuven, told local TV station ROB TV this week that the basic measures to prevent the spread of the virus – rigorous hand-washing, face masks and social distancing – could still be in operation in the autumn of 2021.
The KU Leuven centre will, together with the university’s Riga Institute, be responsible for the first clinical tests of the new vaccine the university is working on.
“The Leuven vaccine is still in a pre-clinical phase,” she told Belga. That phase involves the last animal tests and laboratory tests. Then come the three phases of clinical testing.
“In phase one and phase two we test the induction of an immune response in a limited group of people, while the tests in phase three are carried out on a larger group with the aim of evaluating the effectiveness of the vaccine.”
The first clinical phase of the Leuven vaccine should be able to start by the end of January, she said.
“Other candidate vaccines, such as the Oxford vaccine that is talked about so much, are already in the third phase. They had certain technology available that they could build on.”
The first deliveries to Belgium should arrive in March, with the initial shipment of 1.5 million doses. Those are likely to be reserved for medical staff and then to those with a chronic condition and the elderly. But the exact system for determining who gets what and when have still to be worked out.
In the meantime, the general public will have to carry on taking the elementary precautions, including wearing masks in places where social distancing is not possible, mainly inside enclosed spaces.
That means another year of masks and hand sanitiser, but also restrictions on the number of tables in restaurants, table service only in bars, and the maximum size of audiences for shows and concerts.
But everything, Vandermeulen said, depends on the results of the clinical testing.
“If we notice in phase three that, for example, older people react differently to the vaccine, we may have to adjust the distribution. It is therefore very difficult to say when Covid vaccines will be available to everyone. It may well be that we will have to live with the corona measures for a long time,” she said.