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Will the biggest challenge of vaccinating against COVID-19 really be logistical in nature?

by Cédric Ayisa - December 11, 2020   1044 Views   6 min
Will the biggest challenge of vaccinating against COVID-19 really be logistical in nature?

Claim

The greatest challenge of COVID-19 immunization will be the distribution of the vaccine.

Verdict

Unsubstantiated (insufficient data)

A December 3, 2020 NBC News article states that the biggest challenge the authorities will face, after vaccine production, will be the logistics of vaccine distribution. This statement is unsubstantiated.

The article explains that according to Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson executives, three pharmaceutical companies that produce vaccines against COVID19, distribution and logistics will be the biggest vaccination challenges. However, a closer look and analysis of events and data shows that logistics is only part of the challenge in making vaccines accessible. For this reason, our verdict is that this statement about the logistical challenge related to vaccines is unsubstantiated.

Logistics and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, logistics is ‘the careful organization of a complicated activity so that it happens in a successful and effective way.” 

This definition makes it clear that logistics is a process ensuring the seamless transportation of a product or information from point A to point B. This includes an understanding of the potential challenges facing the supply chain.

The challenges posed by the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines are not new. For decades, vaccines have been delivered around the world to fight poliomyelitis; influenza vaccine are distributed annually everywhere; and more recently, during the Ebola outbreaks, authorities have made the necessary efforts to deliver new vaccines. There is no shortage of experience. Now, with COVID-19, the challenge is to predict or anticipate various scenarios related to quantities, storage, weather, conservation (several vaccines from different companies requiring different temperatures). For example, the Moderna group vaccine requires a temperature of -20℃ and has a shelf life of 6 months, but it must be used within 30 days when stored in a regular refrigerator. On the other hand, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine must be stored at -70℃ and can be stored in a regular refrigerator for only five days. In addition, there is a need to consider people living in remote areas and those unable to travel to vaccination centers. 

In a context such as Canada's, vaccine distribution must navigate both the federal and provincial levels. In remote areas coordination with local authorities will also be required. It is evident that good planning and the presence of adequate infrastructure will help solve the logistics problem and avoid losing vaccines or not vaccinating the people who want or need vaccines the most. This is why Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau chose to appoint a military person to lead the logistics and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, as announced during a press conference (23'38'') on 27 November.

Unlike some countries, Canada does not have a national registry to track vaccines, a situation that could create additional challenges. However, it does have a system for monitoring side-effects following the administration of vaccines. 

But once solutions to potential logistical problems have been found, and the vaccines have been delivered, how can we ensure that people will get vaccinated? How do we convince them that vaccines are safe and effective?

Misinformation and disinformation are greater challenges for vaccine uptake

How useful are vaccines when they are not administered or accepted? What can authorities do to address the resistance of populations to vaccine when such resistance often stems from misinformation or disinformation?

Vaccines represent one of the great advances in public health and allow us to fight various diseases, to the point where they rarely occur anymore. On the other hand, for several years now, the emergence of anti-science feelings has led to the emergence of ideologies against vaccines. Anti-vaxxers, often relying on conspiracy theories, have invaded the social, political, and digital spheres and spread false information. This is leading many people to refuse vaccination for themselves or for their children, which endangers herd immunity and may lead to the resurgence of diseases that have virtually disappeared in high-income countries. 

Moreover, in today’s COVID-19 context, public mistrust of vaccines is notable, for several reasons. These include fears that vaccines produced in record time could have serious side effects, or lack of appropriate information. Misinformation and disinformation only reinforce this mistrust. As noted in one of our previous articles, misinformation has reached a level not seen since the beginning of the pandemic. 

It is true that we already know to expect misinformation and that some aspects of this phenomenon can be predicted thanks to artificial intelligence, algorithms, and recent experience. However, it is still difficult to predict to what extent people will follow false or uncorroborated information spread by political figures, such as Donald Trump in the United States, or John Magufuli in Tanzania.

Similarly, it is difficult to predict the growth of conspiracy, anti-mask, and anti-vaccine groups such as QAnon in Quebec, which has already spread its influence all the way to France. Indeed, in a study on the relationship between social networks and vaccine mistrust, researchers found that using social networks to organize offline actions is highly predictive of the belief that vaccines are not safe; and this belief is reinforced as the organization develops on social media. The study also found that online misinformation campaigns from foreign countries are associated with negative discussion about vaccines in social networks and a decline in average vaccine coverage over time.

Despite attempts by web giants to counter misinformation, states, groups, and individuals behind misinformation campaigns continue to find ways to reach populations with false information that can undermine the efforts of health authorities in administering COVID-19 vaccines.

The following equation applies to the deployment of the COVID-19 vaccines: the largely predictable distribution risks versus the largely unpredictable risks of misinformation and disinformation. By default, in a risk analysis, the unpredictable represents the greater challenge because it prevents planning and groundwork. Will the original anti-vaxxers or those who took control of anti-mask demonstrations come to life again and spread false information online, with consequences in real life (offline), as happened at the start of the pandemic? Will they keep a low profile, as current trends indicate? Or are they waiting for the release of the federal government's distribution plans, as called for by Conservative Party leader Erin O'Toole, before springing into action?

Logistical challenges versus misinformation challenges

Although logistical challenges are an important part of vaccination, they are only part of the problem, and not the greatest one. Currently available data do not support the claim made by NBC News that logistics and distribution will be the biggest challenges related to the roll out of the COVID-19 vaccines - which leads us to label their claim as unsubstantiated. In fact, even if vaccines are distributed and available, there will still be a need to address people’s resistance to vaccines, a reaction fueled by misinformation and disinformation. This may be more of a challenge than logistics because of the unpredictable nature of misinformation, its amplification, and the actors involved.

Addressing misinformation and disinformation

No one is immune from the consumption and sharing of misinformation and disinformation. All of us must take responsibility in fighting against these growing scourges. With this in mind, we have created a simple and easy-to-remember guide, the FACTS Framework for Addressing Misinformation and Disinformation. You can find it on this page and share it.

You can also refer to the Federal/Provincial/Territorial Statement of Common Principles for Immunization against COVID-19 and Canada's COVID-19 Immunization Plan. And you can visit the World Health Organization site to learn more about vaccines and immunization in general.

Our goal is to provide you with fact checks that are as accurate as and up-to-date as possible. If you think we've made an error or missed crucial information, please CONTACT US.

The Cambridge Dictionary:

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/logistics?q=Logistics

The Conversation:

https://theconversation.com/vaccines-are-here-but-how-will-we-get-them-to-billions-of-people-151132

COVID-19 Facts:

https://www.faitscovid19.ca/en/fact-checked/since-the-beginning-of-the-covid-19-crisis-we-ve-seen-disinformation-on-an-unprecedented-scale

https://www.faitscovid19.ca/en/fact-checked/what-are-the-consequences-when-political-leaders-violate-covid-19-health-regulations

Global News:

https://globalnews.ca/news/7472038/coronavirus-vaccine-canada-challenges/

World Health organization (WHO)

https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/68463/WHO_VB_03.18.Rev.1_eng.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/vaccines-and-immunization-what-is-vaccination?adgroupsurvey=%7badgroupsurvey%7d&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIg6T38_3D7QIVC_HACh2CvQa5EAAYASAAEgKOm_D_BwE

The Guardian

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/29/fauci-us-unlikely-achieve-herd-immunity-coronavirus-even-with-vaccine

Health Canada

https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection/canadas-reponse/covid-19-immunization-federal-provincial-territorial-statement-common-principles.html

https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection/canadas-reponse.html

https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/phac-aspc/documents/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection/canadas-reponse/canadas-covid-19-immunization-plan-en.pdf

Parti conservateur du Canada

https://www.conservative.ca/erin-otoole-calls-for-trudeau-liberals-to-share-vaccine-plan/

British Medical Journal (BMJ)

https://gh.bmj.com/content/5/10/e004206

Social Media Today

https://www.socialmediatoday.com/news/facebook-twitter-and-google-to-team-up-to-combat-covid-19-vaccine-misinfor/589510/

Risk and Insurance

https://riskandinsurance.com/predicting-the-unpredictable/

Ryerson University

https://datastudio.google.com/u/0/reporting/87b00158-5589-4154-a81b-c17cdb0d0d19/page/Kn2IB

Twitter Prime Minister of Canada

https://twitter.com/i/broadcasts/1ZkKzewYXMWxv (23’38’’)

  Claim

NBC News

Organization
The greatest challenge of COVID-19 immunization will be the distribution of the vaccine.

Verdict:

Unsubstantiated (insufficient data)

 December 11, 2020


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