This week we received good news on the quest to develop a vaccine for COVID-19. Pfizer and Moderna have both reported positive results from their Phase 3 vaccine trials, and while there is still more work to do, this news is the shot in the arm we need to hope that eventually we’ll be rid of the threat this virus presents.
Pfizer said its vaccine has proven to be 90 percent effective against the virus, and Moderna reported a nearly 95 percent effective rate. Dr. Anthony Fauci characterized these effective rates as “extraordinary.”
“Not very many people expected it would be as high as that,” he added.
There are still questions to be answered about both vaccines. Still unknown is the length of time the vaccine will provide protection or if the vaccines fully prevent the disease or instead reduces the severity of it. We also don’t know if the FDA will give its approval for emergency use.
Both Moderna and Pfizer used a new technology, messenger RNA technology, to create the vaccine. This technology uses genetic coding to teach the immune system to recognize the spike protein on the coronavirus.
There are other vaccines in development as well. Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca are expected to report the results of their Phase 3 trials soon. These companies used the same technology used to develop an Ebola vaccine, using genetic material from the coronavirus and another noninfectious virus. It is possible we may end up with multiple vaccines for COVID-19.
Pfizer’s vaccine has some logistical issues: it has to be stored at minus-70 degrees Celsius. The company has created its own shipping container to distribute the vaccine, but once at its destination, it must be used within a short window of time. Moncef Slaoui, chief scientific adviser for Operation Warp Speed, told NPR this week that Pfizer’s vaccine would “be compatible with mass immunization.”
“You would go to a hospital and immunize all the health care workers, or you would go to a seniors care center and immunize all the seniors in that care center - things like that, where you immunize hundreds of individuals at the same time,” he said.
And if the FDA does approve Moderna’s and Pfizer’s vaccines by December, it is healthcare workers, nursing home residents and others at greater risk for the disease who will receive the vaccine first. As for the general public, the companies are predicting that the vaccine will be available around the start of summer next year. Fauci and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar are even more optimistic than that, predicting that a coronavirus vaccine will be widely available by April.
So while we have good news about the vaccines, it’s important that we also continue to do the things that stop community spread: stay home if you’re sick, wash hands, avoid close contact with people not in your bubble and cover your mouth and nose with a mask when in public. If the vaccines prove to be as effective as the trials indicate, we have a lot to look forward to next summer. Let’s make sure we all get there together.