Reena Ranger, Chair of Women Empowered, is In Conversation with Dr Harpreet Sood for a special episode of her regular series for ‘iGlobal’ to explore some inspirational facets from the life and achievements of prominent Global Indians.
Dr Sood from the National Health Service (NHS) is a Board Member of Health Education England (HEE) and a Global Digital Health Adviser. Here, he reflects how the Covid-19 pandemic has changed so much and taken far too many too soon. People from ethnic minorities are disproportionately affected, but there is light at the end of the tunnel with the vaccines.
To start with the basics, what is a vaccine and why do we need them?
Vaccines are very important because they protect ourselves and our children from ill health. We've had vaccines for many diseases before, from small pox to polio, tetanus or measles, we've all had them and our children have had them. For infectious diseases that cause harm, we have an opportunity to use these vaccines to build our immune systems that help create antibodies that protect us from these diseases. The same applies with Covid-19, and it much safer for your immune system to learn this through vaccination than catching the disease and treating it. What's exciting is that in the space of 12 months, we've got a vaccine. It's a remarkable achievement of Science.
Some people are saying the vaccine was developed too quickly. How can we know they're safe for us?
These vaccines have been developed very quickly, but they have been highly regulated. There are a number of enablers that happened to make this process quick. Let me touch upon three of them:
1. The different phases of the clinical trial were delivered to overlap the process rather than run sequentially. What I mean by that is we were not waiting for one part of the process was started before staring the next, which really sped up the clinical process.
2. There was a rolling assessment of the data that was being sent to the experts and regulators at MHRA. That meant that they could review the trial data as it was coming through, ask questions along the way and requesting extra information as it was coming. We were improving it as we were going along. Historically, this can take a lot longer because we're waiting on one part after the other.
3. One of the biggest challenges of vaccine development is recruiting participants onto clinical trials. Because of the global effort that we've had and because a lot more people has been interested, recruitment was very quickly. Thousands of people volunteered quickly, which meant that we were able to produce the vaccines quickly.
We should be celebrating this because it's a unique moment that will set the standard for future vaccine developments.
Everything has been transparent. Data has been publicly available. Everything has been published in highly rigorous scientific journals. If you go on the government website or MHRA websites, you can access all information, so that you can rest your minds. That's the strength of the science we have that has developed this vaccine.
Is the vaccine suitable for vegetarians and those with certain religious or cultural dietary requirements?
It is absolutely suitable for vegetarians. It is fully endorsed by religious councils, including those worried about halal or other cultural reasons. The British Islamic Medical Associate is one of the number of Muslim organisations that has been encouraging people to take the vaccine. It is completely safe as there are no animal products used in any of the vaccines.
There is a lot of misinformation out there and it’s causing people to make the wrong decisions. For me, as a GP, it is about making sure people have the right information to make a decision. Contact your GP as your first port of call if you have concerns. Pharmacists, the UK government website, the NHS website, and community and faith leaders can also be contacted to get the right information.
*The views expressed in the answers are of the interviewees.