Less than nine months ago, the world changed dramatically - wearing masks and shaking elbows instead of hands became the norm, as did the excessive use of hand sanitizer.
But despite 2020 being the year that feels like it’s lasted a decade, in the relatively short amount of time since ‘COVID-19’ entered common vernacular, the seemingly impossible has occurred - a vaccine has been found.
The vaccine the world has been waiting for
A few days ago, the UK became the first country to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine — a development that's been described as extraordinary and unprecedented.
But what does this mean for a fearful and traumatised world population? The appearance of a vaccine so soon after the rise of a novel virus as deadly as COVID-19 is uncommon at best and dangerous at worst.
There remains a long road ahead for medical and government authorities to convince citizens that the speed at which this potential miracle drug has been created doesn’t come with any serious risks.
The current vaccine landscape:
- AstraZeneca - 70% effective in preventing disease, will start rolling out by Christmas. Has an efficacy of 90%. Trialed with Oxford and is in Phase 3 with 24,000 participants.
- Pfizer - 95% effective at prevention infections. Phase 3 trials with 43,000 participants. Working with BioNTech. Recently approved for rollout by the UK government.
- Moderna - 94.5% Effective with 30,000 participants.
Despite the impressive progress being made by many companies, many questions still remain.
What will the vaccine cost the average citizen? How many vaccines are realistically available? How will it be transported and stored? What methods have been used to verify it’s efficacy?
While the WHO has publicly stated that it wants to see at least 70% trial efficacy, there remains a groundswell of concern that the fast development of a vaccine meant to rid the world of COVID-19 couldn’t possibly have been able to be tested for long enough to establish any long term adverse effects.
And while the regulatory standards that surround the development of vaccines are rigorous and thorough, it will be interesting to see how the medical fraternity and governments alike will pull together to fight the misconceptions that will likely surround any widespread administering of the vaccine.
In a country where (at last count) only 25% of the population downloaded the Federal government’s COVIDSafe app, what kind of uptake can be expected for a vaccine, as long as it remains optional?
The great vaccine debate - mandatory or optional?
With some ~25 million Australians to vaccinate and a limited global supply despite the worldwide demand, it will be interesting to see how the inoculation effort will be rolled out across the country.
For some industries and professions, it will of course be a non-negotiable that any proven vaccine be taken.
Most medical professionals and those working in aged care will no doubt be required to vaccinate, but so too might events, hospitality and retail businesses.
Qantas has already announced that a COVID-19 vaccine will be mandatory for all Australians flying overseas (once such travel resumes in 2021).
Other industries will certainly follow suit.
The next question of course becomes, how to verify vaccination?
Verifying vaccination and the role of digital health
A global, coordinated approach to ‘proof of vaccination’ is the ideal solution, but one that is practically hard to execute.
Thanks to the presence and pervasiveness of digital health technology, however, it is certainly possible.
Companies like WeGuide specialise in capturing data from clinical settings - so what if that data was shared for the purposes of public health?
Privacy is a key concern here, with correct governance and cybersecurity integral to making sure data retention and sharing is safe from abuse or tampering.
The road ahead
2020 will go down as the year where life changed for all of us. Out of the anxiety, pain and loss, lies hope and positivity for 2021. We now have vaccines being rolled out across the globe with the promise of life returning to “normal”. If there is one thing Covid has shown us is that we can embrace change quickly when life depends on it.
Advancing digital technology adoption during the pandemic has been a positive side effect but there’s so much more we can be doing beyond telehealth doctor sessions. We can take a major step and empower individuals to care for themselves, their families and communities.
Combining the trends in AI and design thinking we can build a healthcare system that continuously prevents, diagnoses and treats our community. We have the technology today to do this, we just need the willingness to. Imagine a world where the latest medical breakthroughs are integrated into your life and wellbeing as soon as it's ready without you needing to understand or learn it. As we like to say at Curve, the best technology is the one that’s so seamless you don’t even feel it’s there.
Now more than ever we have a chance to significantly increase the quality of care and reduce the cost of healthcare across the globe. Digital means the equity of healthcare can just be over the horizon rather than just a pipedream. At Curve, we are committed to making this happen with digital health and realising our dream of impacting 1 billion people.