There are many ways to control the spread of infection, but one of the most effective is immunization. According to WHO, vaccines prevent 2-3 million deaths every year from potentially deadly diseases such as diphtheria, measles and influenza. As of March 3rd 2020, COVID-19 has a mortality rate of 3.4%. This figure could be seriously reduced by the introduction of a globally-available vaccine, making the coronavirus much less dangerous.
Developing a vaccine
On January 8th 2020, Chinese authorities isolated the infection and scientists throughout the world began studying it to gain a greater understanding. Multiple countries, including China and the United States, are currently working on a vaccine to prevent the disease. Scientists in Houston were close to creating a coronavirus vaccine in 2016. But lack of funding meant the vaccine was unable to be tested on humans and was never released.
A new coronavirus vaccine has since been created and Seattle researchers are recruiting healthy volunteers aged 18-55 to test it. The preliminary safety trial is expected to take place at the end of April and will determine if the vaccine triggers an immune response and whether it causes any negative side effects.
Developing safe, effective vaccines takes time. Even if the trials this spring are successful, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told US senators it will be at least 18 months before a vaccine is publically available. ADA is taking a similar stance, anticipating a wait of around 12 months for a coronavirus vaccine to reach wide availability.
When can dental practices get a COVID-19 vaccine?
There’s no concrete answer to this question. Information suggests a vaccine will become available in the future, but not for another year at least. Although this might seem like a lifetime away for dental professionals facing a potential pandemic, this estimate would actually be record-breaking if it proves true.
According to Jon Andrus, a professor of global vaccinology and vaccine policy at Milken Institute of Public Health at George Washington University, most vaccines take 5-15 years to become publicly available. Huge advancements in technology, including protein-visualizing microscopes and genetic sequencing, has significantly sped up the vaccine creation process. Sometimes a vaccine can be ready to test in just weeks.
The most time-intensive aspect of vaccine development is the processing of clinical trials. The course is broken down like this:
- Phase 1 (3 months): Testing the vaccine on a few dozen healthy volunteers to find out if it’s safe.
- Phase 2 (6-8 months): Giving 100s of people in an area with a COVID-19 outbreak the vaccine so scientists can determine how well it causes the production of antibodies.
- Phase 3 (6-8 months): Treating 1000s of people in an outbreak zone with the vaccine to further confirm how well it spurs antibody production.
Assuming there are no problems recruiting patients and there is a great enough vaccine supply, this process takes a minimum of 13 months to complete. After that, a regulatory agency needs to review all the data before the vaccine can be approved. This final step can take anywhere from months up to a year.
Other ways to stop the spread of COVID-19
Since a coronavirus vaccine isn’t expected to be available until mid 2021, relying on it for your dental practice isn’t an effective way to protect yourself from COVID-19. Until immunization is an active solution, follow our tips to help control the spread of the coronavirus:
Reschedule appointments if necessary
Call all patients with upcoming appointments and ask them if they:
- Currently have signs of a respiratory infection — even just the common cold.
- Have had signs of a respiratory infection in the past 14 days.
- Have traveled to any of the most severely impacted countries since December.
- Have been in close contact with anyone who has traveled to any of the most severely impacted countries since December.
If any of your patients respond “yes” to any of the above questions, consider rescheduling appointments for non-urgent treatment until they’ve received several negative coronavirus test results.
Wear Personal Protective Equipment
You can’t always identify people who are carrying infections. To help protect yourself when treating patients, you should wear PPE. This includes:
- Surgical/procedure mask.
- Safety eyewear.
- Impermeable smock.
Adhere to infection prevention guidelines
Limit the spread of germs by doing the following:
- Cover your nose and mouth with a clean tissue when you sneeze or cough.
- Place the used tissue in the nearest waste receptacle.
- If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your elbow — not into your hands.
- Thoroughly wash your hands immediately after coughing or sneezing.
Make sure your staff and patients have easy access to tissues, no-touch disposal receptacles and alcohol-based hand rub.
Wash hands thoroughly and frequently
WHO recommends you wash your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub. You should apply it onto dry hands and rub it in until completely dry. Ensure you wash your hands:
- At the beginning of the work day.
- Before initial contact with a patient.
- Before using an invasive medical device.
- After cleaning any contaminated surface or soiled material.
- After final contact with a patient.
- After contact with a patient’s surroundings.
- At the end of the work day.
Hire staff with experience combating infections
All dental professionals are familiar with the standard dental hygiene guidelines. But during an international disease outbreak, following strict sanitation regulations is even more important.
When hiring dental staff from Cloud Dentistry, pay close attention to any professional who lists past experience working during an outbreak. They’ll be able to use the knowledge they gained during that time to help properly treat patients in your practice. They’ll also be able to train your other staff on infection control standards in dentistry.
Do your part
COVID-19 is a dangerous disease with the potential to do massive damage to people all around the globe. To ensure the safety of your patients, your staff and yourself, it’s critical your dental practice takes appropriate action to limit the spread of the coronavirus as much as possible. Until a vaccine becomes widely available, implement the above tactics to reduce the chance of infection.