As 2020 winds down and we finally find ourselves welcoming the month of December, we’re also greeted with some good news: impending Covid-19 relief in the form of not one, not two, but several potential vaccines.
Currently, as of the publishing of this article, there are 13 vaccines in Phase 3 large-scale efficacy tests, with many more in early development and six approved for limited early use around the world, according to the NY Times vaccine tracker.
On December 2nd, the United Kingdom became the first Western nation to approve a Covid-19 vaccine, approving the vaccine for emergency use and prioritizing the elderly, vulnerable people, caretakers, and healthcare workers for initial distribution. “It’s the start of the end of the pandemic,” BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin told CNN.
The other most promising vaccines to date seem to be from drugmakers Moderna, Novavax, and AstraZeneca.
It’s the very words we’ve been waiting to hear since March — a vaccine is on the way. As Dr. Fauci said, “the cavalry is coming.” And it couldn’t come at a more crucial time and grim moment in this country, with coronavirus cases surging, hospitals and healthcare workers once again becoming overwhelmed, deaths on the rise, and positivity rates creeping in the wrong direction.
On Good Morning America, Fauci recently promised that “vaccines are going to have a major positive impact. They’re going to start being implemented and deployed in December.” But he also reminded American citizens that help is not here yet, and we all need to do our part in the meantime. “If we could just hang in there, do the public health measures that we’re talking about, we’re going to get this under control, I promise you,” he said.
Even though the vaccine is not here today, it is on the way, and we are closer than we’ve ever been to a potential cure and effective preventative treatment to make the Covid-19 pandemic a distant memory rather than a pressing global threat that has drastically stalled our lives in every possible way.
Currently, pharmaceutical companies Moderna and Pfizer have vaccines that have proven to be extremely effective in early clinical trials, and those companies have both applied for emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, which could come as early as this month.
As the country and the world prepare for the first available vaccines and the first rounds of vaccinations, there’s still a lot we don’t know and a lot of false claims circling around the news, social media threads, and socially distanced gatherings.
So, let’s debunk some of those myths and get to the truth about what we know today regarding the forthcoming Covid-19 vaccines. Because as Fauci confirmed, help is coming, and there is a light at the end of this very dark year. But we all need to remain vigilant, get educated, get ready, and stay safe in the meantime.
Claim: All Covid-19 vaccines are the same
Not true. Each of the various vaccines in development and seeking FDA approval is unique in several ways, from how they must be stored to how many doses are required for full vaccination and the method and efficacy of the vaccine.
Some vaccines are protein-based, such as Novavax, which works by sticking coronavirus proteins onto microscopic particles rather than using any genetic material.
On the other hand, the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are genetic vaccines, which deliver the coronavirus’s own genes into our cells to provoke an immune response.
The AstraZeneca drug is a viral vector vaccine that contains viruses engineered to carry coronavirus genes into our cells and make viral proteins.
In addition, each of these potential vaccines must be stored differently and require different dosages. For example, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines each require two doses, but the Pfizer vaccine needs to be stored at subzero temperatures. In contrast, the Moderna vaccine can be stored at standard freezer temperatures and is expected to remain stable at standard refrigerator temperatures for 30 days.
Bottom line: not all vaccines work in the same way, and not all vaccines are created equal. This is not a bad thing — more options and more available vaccines approved by the FDA means that more people can be protected from the virus.
Claim: As soon as the FDA approves a vaccine, it will be available to everyone
Not so fast. Once the vaccines are approved by the FDA for emergency distribution, and eventually approved for use on the general population, then they must be distributed to hundreds of millions of people across the country (and the world).
It won’t be a first-come, first-served situation. There will be a strategic distribution plan for who is eligible to get the first rounds of vaccinations in the immediate future. Currently, the CDC is voting on who will get the coronavirus vaccine first. The recommended plan from public health officials and medical experts suggests that health-care workers should get the vaccine first, followed by vulnerable Americans, including the elderly, people with preexisting conditions, and essential workers.
Initially, there will be about 40 million doses of the vaccine available before 2021, assuming all goes according to plan. The FDA approved these potential vaccines, which means that approximately 20 million people could be inoculated (both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines require 2 doses).
In case you’re not doing the math, that means that the vast majority of Americans will need to wait months to be immunized.
So no, the vaccine will not be immediately available to everyone. That said, Dr. Fauci did encourage all Americans to “be part of the solution” and get vaccinated once it is available. “Say, ‘I’m not going to be one of the people that’s going to be a stepping stone for the virus to go to somebody else. I’m going to be a dead-end to the virus,'” Fauci told Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Monday.
Claim: The Covid-19 pandemic will be over once a vaccine is available
Not immediately, no. The vaccine will certainly help save millions of lives. Eventually, once it can be widely distributed to everyone, and all doses of vaccination can be completed, it will stop the spread of this dangerous virus. But it will not happen overnight, and for the vaccine to work, it requires that everyone actually gets vaccinated when it becomes available.
Even for those who do get vaccinated, immunity will take time.
According to the CDC, “it typically takes a few weeks for the body to build immunity after vaccination. That means it’s possible a person could be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 just before or just after vaccination and gets sick. This is because the vaccine has not had enough time to provide protection.”
In other words, even if you do get vaccinated, you’re not 100 percent immune right away, and you could still get other people sick if you do carry the coronavirus and spread it to others who have not yet been vaccinated.
Plus, the vaccine will not be distributed to everyone right away, and full distribution will take time, even if most people agree to receive the vaccination. So, in the meantime, be cautious, wash your hands, wear a mask, and practice social distancing.
Claim: The potential vaccines are 100 percent effective
Not 100 percent, but results from early clinical trials are auspicious. An early analysis of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine trial suggested the vaccine was more than 90 percent effective in preventing Covid-19. To put it in perspective, that level of protection is consistent with highly effective childhood vaccines for diseases such as measles.
Another recent study of 30,000 found the Moderna vaccine to be 94.5 percent effective at preventing Covid-19 and found that the vaccine was 100 percent effective at preventing the coronavirus’s severe disease.
Claim: Once you get vaccinated, you will not need to wear masks or take public health precautions
This is just completely false and is a dangerous assumption.
People need to understand that even after the vaccines are approved and are initially distributed to frontline workers and vulnerable populations, the vast majority of Americans will still not be protected from Covid-19, at least not at first. And currently, the country is battling a surge that is expected to worsen before it gets better.
The US is reporting more than 100,000 new cases a day nationally, a statistic that has been consistent for 28 consecutive days (possibly more once this article is published), and record hospitalizations each day. This is why people from coast to coast need to heed the public health guidelines and continue to exercise caution to stay safe and stop the spread.
Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Avoid public gatherings. Practice social distancing. Do your part to stay healthy and keep others around you healthy as well.