Vaccines by themselves "do not equal zero Covid-19", but will rather go hand in hand with social distancing and other measures before "life as we know it" returns.
That is according to the executive director of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Irish native, Dr Mike Ryan, who said vaccines are a major addition to our existing toolkit, rather than a panacea — but that they could see the end to lockdowns in weary societies.
As he received the Bar of Ireland’s Human Rights Award for 2020, the Sligo and Mayo medic said that while vaccines are a huge breakthrough, there is still a long way to go.
He said: "We need to be very careful that we don't have a belief that because vaccines are coming down the road, that we can just wait for them to finish this. Vaccines by themselves do not equal zero Covid-19.
"I believe what will equal zero Covid-19 is when we add vaccines to our continued vigilance, continuing distancing, mask wearing, and other things. Can vaccines, with that vigilance by individuals and communities, result in not having lockdowns? I believe so."
Lockdowns are essentially a failure of control, while vaccines are a massive tool for control, Dr Ryan said.
"That is what is really affecting people - the restrictive measures that shut down society. People lose access to education, healthcare, social networks and all of the trauma of mental health that comes with that dislocation in our society. I believe vaccines can solve that dislocation.
Dr Ryan said that for "life as we know it" to happen, frontline workers and vulnerable people should be first in line for vaccines.
"Everyone won't be vaccinated in the first round. It will take time to roll out to the general population. Because of that, continued vigilance is going to be required," he said.
Dr Ryan moved to assure people that vaccines will be safe, and that worries that solutions have been rushed or not properly vetted are unnecessary.
The sheer interest and galvanising of so many companies, governments, medics and scientists from first instance is unprecedented, with structures for such a critical scenario having been put in place years previously, he said.
"We had already defined the profiles for the diagnostics and therapeutics and the vaccines we were going to need. We had the blueprints for what we thought was going to be needed. We had already looked at the landscape of the technology out there. We had already looked at the platforms that might be available to develop vaccines quickly," he said.
"The research and development concretised that into a roadmap in February. We should celebrate science here. We have never developed so many vaccine solutions so quickly in the history of this planet. All of the proper hurdles have been jumped in terms of safety," he said.