Vaccines: the world between hope and scepticism

After Biontech and Pfizer announced a breakthrough in coronavirus vaccine development, closely followed by the US company Moderna, hopes that the pandemic can be beaten through widespread immunization are growing. While some commentators find it hard to control their excitement, others point to the major obstacles ahead and see grounds for scepticism.

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Expresso (PT) /

That was suspiciously quick

Journalist Henrique Raposo argues in Expresso that those who believe in science in particular have good reason to doubt the vaccines:

“I'm not suspicious of these vaccines because I'm against science or against pharmacy. On the contrary, I'm suspicious because I believe in the protocol of science, which has come under absurd pressure from politicians, from the media and from the collective anxiety that demands a miraculous cure. A mental state in which we will take the vaccine without asking questions and assume that everything will be fine. This seems to me to be a dangerous illusion for the credibility of science and for the concept of truth itself.”

La Stampa (IT) /

Growing rejection is not baseless

According to a current survey people's willingness to be vaccinated has decreased in all participating countries compared to June, when no vaccine was available. This raises questions, warns La Stampa:

“What influence has trust in governments, scientific institutions and their handling of the pandemic had? What role has the media circus, fuelled by division and controversies between scientists and experts, played? With the resulting disorientation regarding the reliability of information and data? ... Not for nothing did a majority in four of the five countries covered by the survey express concern about the safety of the vaccines, questioning the speed of the development and production process. Added to this is the fear of the side effects that have accompanied all vaccines, starting with the smallpox vaccination.”

Blog David McWilliams (IE) /

Countdown to a new productive era

The news about effecitive vaccines should inspire hope that a new era is dawning, writes business journalist David McWilliams on his blog:

“Vaccination is the accelerated road to community immunity. After that, society should resettle in the same way as it did after other pandemics. History gives us a guide as to what might be ahead. For example, the economic, technological and commercial reaction to the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1921 was impressive. ... Think about light at the flick of a switch, the affordable and transformative Model T Ford, the radio that brought messages to millions, the telephone. ... All these inventions came during a wave of optimism fuelled by the end of a global pandemic and a world war. Something similar could happen in the 2020s.”

Tages-Anzeiger (CH) /

Competition good for everyone

The Tages-Anzeiger is delighted by Moderna's announcement:

“The preliminary results put out by the biotech company Moderna are also cause for optimism because they lend additional credibility to those of its competitor Biontech. After all, both vaccines work on the same, gene-based principle, and both are extremely effective and have no known side effects so far. ... Optimism is also called for because with this second encouraging vaccination project, real competition has developed. ... Consequently, these companies will be forced to show that their vaccine does not pose any risks. ... What's more, the competition between two similar Covid vaccines will also prevent the companies from charging astronomical prices.”

The Guardian (GB) /

Too many vaccine hesitants

A lot of convincing still needs to be done, The Guardian warns:

“What really keeps public health experts awake at night, however, isn't a handful of people convinced that Bill Gates wants to inject them with invisible microchips, nor the Russian bots now amplifying their loopy theories. It's the 'vaccine hesitant'. ... Only 7 percent would definitely refuse a Covid vaccine, according to a poll published last week by JL Partners. But around one in five are reluctant to some degree, with women more likely than men to believe it hasn't been tested thoroughly enough. It's these wobbling 'vaccine hesitants' who could most easily be swayed by something their friend puts on Facebook; who'd rather wait and see what happens when others have the jab.”

La Repubblica (IT) /

EU truly united for the first time

The EU Commission has negotiated an agreement with Biontech and Pfizer to purchase up to 300 million vaccine doses. Massimo Riva voices his approval in La Repubblica:

“The Commission's initiative is gaining in importance, especially in view of the EU's federalist development. It is a genuine act of foreign and security policy. This is perhaps the first real act with which the EU is acting as a compact bloc and with a single voice on the international stage in order to make the most of its political clout and economic strength.”

Le Temps (CH) /

Facilitate knowledge transfer

In Le Temps, former minister Ruth Dreifuss and health expert Patrick Durisch support an application submitted by India and South Africa to the WTO for patent rights to drugs and technologies against Covid-19 to be temporarily suspended:

“The WHO has launched initiatives aimed at solidarity, including Covax for Vaccines, but these global mechanisms face a major obstacle: intellectual property, which includes patents, know-how and confidential data. This prevents the sharing of knowledge and the rapid spread of production sites for urgent medical goods. ... Switzerland would be well advised to heed the call of civil society and the WHO and support this waiver request. ... Millions of lives are at stake. Switzerland can help save them.”

Les Echos (FR) /

Paris must deal with patent issues now

If the government fails to take decisive action now this could delay the distribution of a vaccine when it arrives, warns Matthieu Dhenne, an intellectual property lawyer, in Les Echos:

“The state can demand the introduction of a compulsory licence to ensure access to the patents, but such a procedure is very cumbersome. ... Unlike other players in the sector, Pfizer and Biontech have not undertaken to provide free access to their intellectual property related to Covid-19 under certain conditions. ... At a stage where research is starting to produce results, it is high time the French government addressed these intellectual property issues in order to avoid a bottleneck reminiscent of the mask chaos last spring.”

Politiken (DK) /

Ensure research funding instead of cutting back

The announcement by Biontech and Pfizer that they have come up with a viable vaccine is a triumph for science, Politiken comments in delight:

“Developing such an effective vaccine in less than a year in a world beset by lockdowns is a unique accomplishment. A triumph of science and something that all politicians must bear in mind when research funding is distributed in the coming years. Civilisation is built on science and research, and what looks like something that will save you money in the short term can quickly become very expensive in the long run.”

Der Tagesspiegel (DE) /

Europe needs a plan as quickly as possible

It's time plans were made for how to distribute a vaccine in Europe, Der Tagesspiegel urges:

“Which countries will get what they say they need, and in which order? Germany, because it has pumped millions into developing a vaccine, or Poland, because the population there is more affected by Covid than people in Germany? The country with the fewest intensive care units, because being vaccinated there can potentially save more lives than in countries with more ICU beds? It would be good if the debate about a fair vaccination sequence quickly became more specific. Also to avoid giving the impression that we're once again lagging behind events. Because the fact is that such a vaccination plan should have been ready long ago.”

Webcafé (BG) /

A well thought-out strategy for anti-vaxxers

A vaccine against Covid-19 will only be helpful if it's given to as many people as possible, Webcafé writes, and calls for a campaign for educating vaccine opponents:

“Now is the time to take action against the anti-vaxxers. Once a vaccine has been fully developed it will be too late. Anyone who has spoken to a conspiracy theorist or an outspoken anti-vaxxer will know that it is extremely difficult to persuade such sceptics to change their views. Therefore a carefully thought-out strategy must be developed for this - one that will literally save lives.”

The Times (GB) /

Boundaries don't apply for science

Migration and cross-border cooperation made this breakthrough possible, columnist David Aaronovitch applauds in The Times:

“A major scientific effort is an enterprise beyond borders and (largely) beyond prejudice. The brightest young scientists want to go, labour and study where the most interesting work is being done. I was struck when I went to the south of France in 2016 to interview the physicist Carlo Rovelli by the places he had worked in and the teams he had worked with. Science at this level requires cross-fertilisation. It demands mobility and migration. It needs co-operation and sharing.”

Upsala Nya Tidning (SE) /

Sceptics urgently need to be convinced

Upsala Nya Tidning is worried that opponents of vaccination could prevent adequate vaccination coverage:

“All vaccination programmes are based on a relatively high percentage of participants and on the fact that people have a civic duty to be vaccinated. Opposition to vaccines is a separate niche on the Internet that goes hand in hand with populism and misinformation. After a vaccination campaign has started, however, the fight against this opposition must continue parallel to the fight against the virus itself. Nobody wants a repeat of the coronavirus year 2020. For that reason it is of the utmost importance that knowledge and correct information take precedence.”

To Vima (GR) /

No more recklessness, please

Despite recent successes, people must still be disciplined, To Vima stresses:

“Experts confirm that the vaccine will not be a panacea. In order to avert a flare up of the epidemic we shall have to comply with protective measures. In other words we shall have to learn to live with Covid-19 for a much longer time. Even now in the midst of a lockdown and with the number of dead and intubated patients breaking one record after another, many of our fellow citizens appear not to have understood the critical nature of the situation and are trying to cunningly circumvent the rules. The picture in Athens on the first day of the lockdown 7 November looked like anything but a lockdown and was not at all similar to the March lockdown during which people actually stayed home.”

Népszava (HU) /

Don't demonise competition from the East

Despite the scepticism and economic considerations, Europe should not reject Russian or Chinese vaccines offhand, says journalist and former MEP Gyula Hegyi in Népszava:

“Vaccines, like all medicines, are a huge business opportunity. The Western media have repeatedly reported on serious scandals involving large Western drug manufacturers making extra profit. It is absolutely correct for the EU to subject vaccines coming from outside the EU to meticulous scientific scrutiny. However in the current crisis it would be desirable to avoid a situation in which the selfish market interests of Western multinational companies prevent the import of cheaper and more effective vaccines.”

Les Echos (FR) /

Sweep aside the pessimism

Les Echos sees the announcement as an important stage win for reason and optimism:

“It's still too early to celebrate. But it's never too late for hope to return. In a world plagued by pessimism and scepticism, which pays far too much attention to all manner of conspiracy theorists who cast doubt on science, Pfizer's announcement is doing more than just boost the morale of the world's stock markets. ... The encouraging results of this anti-Covid drug are also an opportunity to remind us that science is an effective weapon in the service of humanity. ... While avoiding starry-eyed optimism, we must also recognise that the worst-case scenario is not always the only option.”

Hospodářské noviny (CZ) /

A boost for stock markets and airlines

While the stock exchanges were looking for reasons to be optimistic after the US elections, a positive surprise came from an unexpected source, Hospodářské noviny notes:

“The cards were completely reshuffled by the news on Monday about the experimental coronavirus vaccine with a success rate of over 90 percent. This sparked euphoria on the European stock exchanges, and America followed suit. The rapid deployment of such an effective vaccine protection could save the airlines from a fatal blow, for example, and ease the pressure on the entire economy. At the end of the day, this gives a stronger impulse than any political change.”

De Morgen (BE) /

Hopeful but not naive

De Morgen also expresses relief but warns against excessive optimism:

“Caution is required. The finishing line is not yet in sight. But it's no coincidence that not just investors but also other people around the world are thrilled at this news. ... Finally there is hope. ... And there's been so little of it in the last few months. But it was false hopes that led governments in Belgium and the rest of Europe astray [in the summer]. Because in the fight against the coronavirus they confused hope with naivety, overconfidence and arrogance. That brought a second wave of infections, which in some ways is as bad or even worse than the first.”

Financial Times (GB) /

Numerous hurdles remain

The Financial Times warns that we shouldn't celebrate too soon:

“Unless the manufacturers can find ways around the problem that the vaccine currently requires storage at minus 80C, distribution will be complex. Large-scale funding will be needed to ensure emerging economies have sufficient quantities of this or other vaccines to prevent later infection waves that could kill thousands more and continue spreading the virus. A mutation originating in mink has also aroused concerns that nature might yet outwit the science. ... Until preventive drugs become widespread, societies cannot let down their guard.”