The Irish Times view on vaccines: maintaining momentum

The longer the scandalous imbalance in vaccine distribution remains, the longer the pandemic will continue

With 95 per cent of adults in Ireland having received two Covid-19 vaccine doses, and more than two-thirds having had a booster, the flow of people passing through the country's vaccination centres has slowed to a trickle. A system that had built up enough capacity to provide more than 500,000 jabs in one week in December is now called on to administer just a few thousand every week.

The success of that programme, which gave Ireland one of the world’s highest vaccination rates, has saved many lives, spared countless others from serious illness and was a key factor in enabling the Government to lift most public health restrictions last month.

Just as urgent a problem is the global distribution inequity that has left rich western countries

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Yet, at home and abroad, it is vital that the focus remain on vaccines. The potential for the emergence of new Covid variants and the likelihood that further boosters may be required means that states must maintain stocks and rollout infrastructure for rapid use.

Efforts to reach communities that have so far resisted vaccination must continue, and the misinformation spread by Covid deniers and conspiracy theorists must be fought with facts, reassurance and scientific rigour.

Just as urgent a problem is the global distribution inequity that has left rich western countries with surplus jabs even as many developing nations struggle with shortages. About 64 per cent of the world population has had at least one dose, but across large swathes of sub-Saharan Africa fewer than 20 per cent of people have had the vaccine. This is in spite of fact that the world is now producing more than enough vaccines to reach those who need them. The longer this scandalous imbalance remains, the longer the pandemic will continue and the more people will die.

In the mRNA vaccines that did so much to turn the tide against Covid, the pandemic will leave a lasting scientific legacy

Even as governments fight the current battle, they must prepare for the next one. The development of safe and effective vaccines in record time has been one of the most remarkable human achievements of the century. That momentum must be maintained; the next time a pandemic hits, politics and supply chains must be ready to move at the speed of science. If the world waits for the next infectious disease outbreak to plan a more efficient and equitable vaccine plan, it will be too late.

In the mRNA vaccines that did so much to turn the tide against Covid, the pandemic will leave a lasting scientific legacy. That new technology, which proved safe, effective and fast, could have far-reaching applications in taking on diseases as diverse as flu, malaria and HIV, and even some forms of cancer. If the Covid emergency can lead us into an era of innovation in medical technology, accompanied by the sort of significant global investment that was lacking previously for vaccine development, then the effects could be transformative.