Virology professors have different views on coronavirus vaccine

Irja Lutsar, the Head of the Government's COVID-19 research council
Irja Lutsar, the Head of the Government's COVID-19 research council Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

The pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca has started to produce a coronavirus vaccine and trials are taking place with more than 10,000 volunteers. But Estonian scientists are split on how useful this potential vaccine will be.

The COVID-19 vaccine, developed by scientists of the University of Oxford, has undergone extensive human testing, and the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca has decided to put the vaccine into mass production so it can be used quickly in the event if it is approved. The group has promised to deliver 400 million doses to European countries this year. The financial risk is high: if the vaccine does not receive official approval, it will not go well, ETV's evening news broadcast "Aktuaalne kaamera" reported on Tuesday. 

Professor Irja Lutsar, of the University of Tartu, said preparations to start ordering the vaccine could be made, but Professor Andres Merits, of the University of Tartu, does not share her enthusiasm.

Merits said although the billions which are mentioned in the development of the vaccine sound like a huge sum of money, in the context of the coronavirus crisis it is a small amount. "In this case, trillions are spent here and there," Merits said. 

Estonia has not participated in previous human trials of the vaccine produced by AstraZeneca. Lutsar, the head of the government's COVID-19 research council, said if the opportunities should be opened up for new human trials, it should be considered to experiment with any new vaccines created by AstraZeneca.  

"It gives even a few of Estonian people the opportunity to get the vaccine, but also to learn about this new vaccine," Lutsar said. 

AstraZeneca is already planning to make the first major deliveries in the autumn. Andres Merits does not see a miracle in the agility of the medicine. 

"First of all, we don't have a vaccine, we have a candidate for the vaccine. One of 30 current vaccine candidates and there is no reason to think that it works and even less reason to think that it is the best of them all," said Merits.

Merits said several brand-new types of vaccines are being developed, which have never been tested on humans. 

"They take up a very broad front, and that, of course, adds a strong belief that at least some approaches work. The question is, which one exactly is best because there is always a mistake in the details," Merits said. 

Lutsar advised the government to start forming a plan. "There will be time for us to start thinking about who our priority groups are who should be vaccinated first because it is quite clear that everyone who wants to get the vaccine, cannot always get one. We need to prioritize a little bit," Lutsar said. 

She said one of the groups to be vaccinated in the first place could be medical professionals. 


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Editor: Katriin Eikin Sein

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