Vaccine perception surveys have improved as they were approved. Have we exaggerated the fear of possible rejection?
People respond based on what they see. If they see that it is already vaccinated in other countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States and that it starts in Europe, it gives them more and more confidence. The skepticism comes because they perceive that they have developed very quickly and believe that the necessary steps have not been fulfilled, but responsible bodies such as the EMA and FDA have supervised the entire process, and continue to do so, so that the vaccines reach society safely and effectively. The population sees this and their confidence increases, and every time it will increase more because in Spain vaccination coverage is very high.
In that sense, do you think we have communicated well the risks and challenges that vaccines faced?
We see that two people have had serious adverse effects and the process is paralyzed and that has created fear in the population, who think that this is something frequent. The media may have put too much emphasis on the weak part instead of the powerful part, which is that the vaccine protects you against the disease and that you are not going to die. It’s like Russian roulette: can I play it? No. The vaccine confers immunity and protection and we are seeing this with phase 3 clinical trials with very high efficacy rates.
There has been a great debate about whether the first vaccines would protect against infection and therefore transmission, or not. What do you think of this?
This is a respiratory virus of the upper and lower respiratory tract that infects many types of cells. The first and most important thing is not to die, but it is not yet defined whether a vaccinated person can still transmit the virus. The AstraZeneca vaccine shows that some of these people have PCR-detectable coronavirus in their upper respiratory tract, suggesting that they have not completely eliminated it and may be able to transmit it. We will see you keeping track of these people, something very important to see what happens over time.
Could the vaccine virus escape if it mutates enough?
Our group has a project to develop vaccine candidates that can block mutant viruses or other emerging coronaviruses. The scientific community is already preparing for that second or third generation of vaccines and society must be given confidence that researchers are working on alternatives with a greater spectrum of action to avoid the emergence of mutants with greater resistance compared to the current ones.
Should we be concerned about the new variant from a vaccine point of view?
We’ll see. We do not know if this greater transmission capacity is because the virus acquires a greater affinity for cell receptors, but at the moment there is no indicator that the antibodies that have been produced by these vaccines do not neutralize [la nueva variante]. Still, others could emerge that are resistant to current vaccines.
In that sense, how is your vaccine different?
Our vaccine model is different from others, it is a variant of the one that was used to eradicate smallpox and which achieved lifelong immunity. The objective is to use a vaccination system that confers a longer duration of the immune response and greater protection. Hopefully it will arrive on time, but if it does not, we will have developed all the technology and we will have a repository of vaccines that we can use when outbreaks appear in Spain and to help other countries in this and future pandemics.
The vaccination campaign has started in Spain. How many people will have to be vaccinated before its effect is noticed?
WHO says we need 70% vaccinated people to confer group immunity. Spain wants to have between 15 and 20 million people vaccinated in June, but we’ll see. Everything will depend on the replacement that is made of these first available vaccines.
Should we be concerned about possible long-term effects seen in a few years when there are millions of vaccinated?
The vast majority are not going to have any serious adverse effects. There are many elements that can be seen in the long term that have absolutely nothing to do with the vaccine. In any case, it will be necessary to follow up as with drugs, but the balance between benefit and risk is very tilted towards benefit. At the moment we have two candidates based on mRNA, but others will come. It is important to note that each vaccine has its uniqueness and we will see its effect in the longer term. People who get vaccinated will have to be followed for months and years to see how they act and give even more confidence.
Do we have an irrational fear of vaccines while taking anti-inflammatories and antibiotics as if they were candy?
Exactly, and it seems that that does not concern us. Vaccines are the safest and most effective remedy we have to protect ourselves from pathogens and we even try to develop others that protect us against other pathologies such as cancer and neurodegenerative diseases. Vaccines are the best because we have an immune system that is wonderful, an army that constantly watches and tries to prevent something from affecting the body. We are learning to understand it and handle it and what vaccines do is train the immune system to fight against adversity.
Is it possible that the world will be divided into two halves within a year, according to the vaccination coverage that each country achieves among its population?
It is cause for concern because it affects us all. We thought that [el coronavirus] He wasn’t going to get here from China, but he did in no time. The same is going to happen now: the variant will come to us tomorrow because the flow of mobility of people, animals and goods will continue. If we protect ourselves but not all and the rest of the world does not protect itself, we will have a problem. We must ensure that vaccines reach the entire world population.
It is said that we will live with SARS-CoV-2 forever. Are we going to live forever with covid-19 vaccines?
We will see the war that the coronavirus gives us and for how long. You may need to give a booster dose of one of these vaccines, and then you may not need more. It will be necessary to see how long the immunity and the circulation of the virus lasts. But there will be more coronaviruses, so we have to develop vaccines with a broad spectrum of action in case others appear. You have to be prepared because they are very contagious viruses and easy to spread to the population through animal reservoirs.