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LEIPZIG, Germany: As the race to develop a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine continues, certain questions may arise that need clarification. While some still doubt the importance of vaccination in general, others are concerned about the safety of candidate vaccines and the associated costs. It has already been announced that dentists and dental hygienists will be included in the first phase of SARS-CoV-2 vaccine roll-out, but what do we know about the vaccine so far, and how essential is it for dental professionals to be vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2?
According to the World Health Organization, immunisation saves the lives of two to three million people worldwide by protecting them from diseases such as diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, influenza and measles. Over time, scientists have been able to develop vaccines that are responsible for preventing more than 20 deadly diseases, and researchers are putting a great deal of effort into making COVID-19 a preventable disease too.
The US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine have recently noted that there are currently approximately 190 SARS-CoV-2 vaccines in development, but that there are still many uncertainties relevant to SARS-CoV-2 vaccine allocation, including number and timing of available vaccine doses, number of available vaccine types, vaccine efficacy and safety, and vaccine uptake, distribution and administration. According to an article published in the New York Times, the first vaccine safety trials in humans started in March, and the National Academies stated that all SARS-CoV-2 vaccines are currently either in preclinical stages or undergoing clinical trials in the US, Europe and China.
Dentists among the first to receive SARS-CoV-2 vaccine
The National Academies has recognised dentists and their teams as essential healthcare workers, which means that they will be allocated an early supply of the vaccine once it becomes available in the US. Vaccination is aimed at protecting not only the health of dental professionals but also that of their patients.
“Frontline health and social care workers are at increased personal risk of exposure to infection with COVID-19 and of transmitting that infection to susceptible and vulnerable patients in health and social care settings,” a report published by the UK Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation read. “It is also recognised that vaccination of frontline health and social care workers will help to maintain resilience in the NHS [National Health Service] and for health and social care providers. The committee therefore consider health and social care workers a high priority for vaccination.”
In an open letter to the National Academies’ Committee on Equitable Allocation of Vaccine for the Novel Coronavirus, American Dental Association (ADA) Executive Director Dr Kathleen T. O’Loughlin and immediate past ADA President Dr Chad P. Gehani said that a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine will offer comfort and reassurance to patients who are still reluctant to return to the dentist’s office owing to fear of infection.
“Counting dentists and their teams among the essential health care workers who should receive Tier-1 access will reduce the occurrence of serious life-changing oral diseases, and possibly even save lives”
“Knowing dentists and their teams have been vaccinated will help reassure those patients that it is safe to resume dental appointments and benefit from these essential health care services,” they noted. “Counting dentists and their teams among the essential health care workers who should receive Tier-1 access will reduce the occurrence of serious life-changing oral diseases, and possibly even save lives,” they added.
The risks associated with a vaccine are yet unknown. The ADA has commented that it is still unclear whether healthcare workers will be required to receive the vaccine. Dentists, dental hygienists and chairside assistants will have to decide for themselves whether they wish to be vaccinated, taking into account the concerns about the likelihood of infection and the well-being of the patients and other people they encounter.
When should we expect a vaccine?
According to a recent article published by BBC News, a vaccine might become available by the middle of 2021, although many scientists are hopeful that successful trials could allow a small number of people to be vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2 by the end of 2020.
According to the National Academies, even if a vaccine is authorised as safe and effective for use, it will only be available in low quantities at first. For the initial period when the vaccine will be in short supply, the Committee on Equitable Allocation of Vaccine for the Novel Coronavirus has published its Framework for Equitable Allocation of COVID-19 Vaccine, which is aimed at assisting experts in health policy-making.
Discussing vaccine allocation, the National Academies noted: “While vaccine distribution is an essential part of pandemic response, other efforts such as social distancing, testing, diagnostic testing, contact tracing, and wearing masks will continue to be vital, especially during the early phases of vaccination.”
Regarding the costs associated with a vaccine distributed in the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wrote: “The federal government is committed to providing free or low-cost COVID-19 vaccines. Vaccine doses purchased with U.S. taxpayer dollars will be given to the American people at no cost. However, vaccination providers will be able to charge an administration fee for giving the shot to someone. Most public and private insurance companies will cover that fee so there is no cost for the person getting vaccinated. In addition, people without health insurance can get COVID-19 vaccines at no cost.”
In the UK, a vaccine will mostly be distributed via the NHS, and countries such as Australia will be offering a vaccine to its population free of charge. Various vaccine manufacturers, such as Moderna and AstraZeneca, have set different prices for supplying a vaccine, and prices might range from as little as US$3 (€2,50) to over US$30 (€25).