Yesterday came the news the world had been eagerly awaiting – the development of the first effective coronavirus vaccine.
The vaccine, by Pfizer and BioNTech, can apparently prevent more than 90 per cent of people from getting Covid-19.
It has been tested on more than 43,500 people in six countries and no safety concerns have so far been raised.
The news was widely celebrated, with some scientists even predicting the vaccine could help see life return to normal by spring.
So that's t then? We have a vaccine and the pandemic will soon be over?
While this is certainly a reason to smile and be optimistic, it is important to keep in mind this data is from the early days of the trial. The results are based on a relatively small number of people – the first 94 from the cohort to develop Covid-19.
Further data in the coming weeks and months will provide a better picture of longer-term vaccine efficacy and it could be years before we know how long immunity lasts.
The makers are confident they will have enough data later this month to take the vaccine to regulatory approval.
And when approved, the logistical challenges of manufacturing the vaccine and rolling out a global vaccination programme will be vast.
As for seeing the back end of this pandemic, an effective vaccine will, of course, help.
However, the questions we need to be asking are:
- What is our vision for the future?
- How can we be better prepared for the next outbreak?
- How can we be proactive in managing human, animal and environmental diseases in a way that doesn’t jeopardise the economy
Vaccines are quite literally life-saving, but in most cases they are a reactive measure.
There is a need for other solutions alongside vaccines, namely rapid testing. And even more specifically, digitised rapid testing, and its increasing role in proactively managing both chronic and infectious diseases.
What does all this mean for Covid-19 Testing?
Mass testing has also been proposed as a strategy to help life return to normal and avoid further lockdowns.
Lateral flow rapid diagnostic tests, in particular, are being held up as the key because of their unmatched speed and high accuracy in detecting even those without Covid-19 symptoms.
They have proven effective in multiple areas, including one of the UK’s most populated cities.
In the UK, Liverpool is the first city to trial mass testing using a mix of lab-based and lateral flow “in-field” tests. All of its citizens have been offered a test, and 12,000 were tested on the first day.
Currently, frequent testing with real-time data gathering is the most effective way to get on top of the pandemic. When test data is collected securely and stored in one location, it allows governments and health authorities to more easily access and analyse it so they can better monitor and control the spread of the outbreak.
Digitising and consolidating test data is the only way to proactively manage outbreaks, whether on a business or a global health scale. The predictive value of data is immense and it can be used in real time to create better strategies and workplace policies, meaning we won’t have to shut down the entire economy every time a new disease makes its way into humans.
We’re not just advocating for data and digital technology because it’s what we do. We are digitising the lateral flow industry because we need collaborative solutions to tackle the challenges of the future (and, as it seems, the present).
The introduction of an effective vaccine will have a huge impact on the pandemic, but it won't remove the need for testing.
Vaccination is not a panacea for this pandemic. Until a sufficient number of people have developed immunity to Covid-19, immunisation will have to be run alongside testing to keep the disease at bay.
We’re all looking forward to the day life can return to normal. But there’s no one magic bullet that will allow us to do that. Therefore, health agencies, vaccine providers and diagnostic testing companies should work together to ensure their efforts are coordinated. And the way to do that is through data – the glue that holds everything together.
To make a real difference in the long term, we need to make things better with data now.