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Medicine 2021 plenary: COVID-19 vaccines – myths, mysteries, misinformation, myopia and miracles

Day 2 of the RCP annual conference concluded with a plenary session on COVID-19 vaccines by Dr Greg Poland, Mary Lowell Leary emeritus professor of medicine, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, USA, and editor-in-chief of the journal Vaccine.

Dr Poland started his overview of COVID-19 vaccines with the 5 Ms:

  • myths such as COVID-19 being a mild disease ‘like the flu’ that will ‘disappear’ and ‘only harms older people’
  • mysteries include the exquisite adaptation of SARS-CoV-2 to human infection and transmission
  • misinformation such as the ideas that masks don’t work, that the vaccine is about government control or contains a microchip, or that mRNA vaccines permanently alter the host genome
  • myopia, notably that the virus has not been controlled and there been a denial of reality – fear and ignorance are highly transmissible in humans
  • miracles – the safe and effective vaccines that are available 9–12 months after the discovery and sequencing of SARS-CoV-2, and the international scientific collaboration that has made this possible.

Dr Poland described the ideal vaccine as having an excellent safety profile, able to be quickly mass produced, one which stimulates a protective and balanced immune response and does not elicit immunopathology after vaccination or subsequent infection. He then gave an overview of coronavirus vaccines currently in development and early use, with detail on how each type of vaccine elicits an immune response and a comparison of their pros and cons, concluding that there is currently no clear winner. Is the fact that all vaccines currently in development are targeted against the SARS-CoV-2 S (spike) protein an Achilles heel? Dr Poland finished with the conclusion that it is vital for pandemic research funding to continue long beyond the attention span of governments and media.

A Q&A session with the RCP president Professor Andrew Goddard followed. Questions included why is this the first time that a coronavirus vaccine has been successful, are we likely to see vaccines against the common cold, and the impact that personalised medicine and genotyping could have on vaccination dosing.

Inspired to find out more? Our annual conference is virtual this year and you can sign up to Medicine 2021 to watch the full presentation. We’ve extended on-demand access to all conference content until the end of April 2021. You can gain up to 16 CPD points until 7 February 2021. Thereafter you will be able to self-accredit as independent learning.