opinion

Billions of people around the world are desperate for a vaccine. For many, that's a first.

Sometime in 2021, we will hopefully see the headline we are all so desperate for. ‘COVID-19 vaccine approved.

Sometime after that, our veins will be coursing with that substance, the masterwork of some of world’s brightest minds, who performed knowing that billions of desperate eyes were upon them.

That vaccine, mere millilitres of it, will protect us from the invisible threat that turned 2020 into a generation-defining, flashbulb-memory year. A year in which we had to stay home, stay away and stay apart, in which doctors were a staple of the nightly news, and in which tens of thousands of people were buried.

This vaccine will likely have been developed and tested quicker than any before it.

It may have come from Australia or the United States or any one of the countries where research teams operated with unprecedented efficiency and openness. It won’t matter. The victory will be one for the global community.

What you need to know about protecting yourself from COVID-19. Post continues below.

Video by World Health Organisation

Until that day comes, eradicating the COVID-19 causing SARS-Cov-2 virus simultaneously around the world is close to impossible. All we can do is swat at the threat and minimise the harm it causes with the best weapons currently available: physical distancing, shutdowns, border restrictions and hand hygiene.

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Simply put, we must ‘flatten the curve‘ and crawl along it until that vaccine — or another effective treatment — arrives. (And likely for a while afterwards.)

According to the World Health Organisation, there are currently more than 60 SARS-Cov-2 vaccines in development, and experts have predicted it will take 12-18 months before any has been proven safe to be administered to millions.

While we wait, watching the number of cases of COVID-19 claw beyond 1.2 million and deaths into the 72,000s is a sobering reminder of just how vulnerable we really are. But it also throws into sharp relief how much we, in affluent countries, take incredible technology like vaccines for granted.

The World Health Organisation estimates that vaccination prevents roughly 2-3 million deaths every year. And it’s because of vaccination that the world is entirely free of smallpox (a disease that killed an estimated 300 million in the 20th Century alone) and that diseases like polio, measles and Guinea worm aren’t far behind.

As Stanford University immunologist Dr Mark Davis once put it, vaccines are “the single most life-saving medical innovation ever in the history of medicine”.

Yet few in the privileged world have ever felt so desperate for a needle.

We’ve sat in doctors’ surgeries and been jabbed over and over, most of us without truly appreciating that what’s flowing into our arm is the last, thin line of defence against a potentially life-threatening illness. Like measles, or tetanus, or Hepatitis B, or HPV, or whooping cough.

When we’re eventually jabbed with the SARS-Cov-2 vaccine, things will be different.

We’ll know what it means.

We’ll know that our healthcare system was bursting and dozens of deaths were mourned. We’ll know that livelihoods were lost and that our economy took a violent thumping. We’ll know that our mental health was tested and relationships were strained.

But we’ll also know that, among it all, we could take comfort that an enormous international infrastructure mobilised to get us to that day and that headline as quickly as possible.

Feature Image: Getty.

Read more about COVID-19:

To protect yourself and the community from COVID-19, remain in your home unless strictly necessary, keep at least 1.5 metres away from other people, regularly wash your hands and avoid touching your face.

If you are sick and believe you have symptoms of COVID-19, call your GP ahead of time to book an appointment. Or call the national Coronavirus Health Information Line for advice on 1800 020 080. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

To keep up to date with the latest information, please visit the Department of Health website.

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