In these desperate times, when the nation is struggling with the outbreak of COVID-19, it seems that a solution has come through: a vaccine that can prevent further spreading of this lethal virus. The vaccine was made by Pfizer and Moderna, and it’s getting an emergency approval by the Food and Drug Administration after being tested in trials and clinicals.
The Marion Peckham Egan School of Nursing and Health Studies invited Gina Kolata, a journalist reporting science and medicine for The New York Times, to discuss the vaccine in-depth at a virtual event called, “Covid-19 Vaccination: How and When Will the U.S. Get It? A Discussion of the State of the Coronavirus Vaccination.”
Kolata opened by expressing some concerns regarding “the first vaccine that is effective against this deadly virus, in such an incredibly short time.” A frequently referenced question was: “Why should I take this vaccine if it hasn’t been tested enough and can possibly harm me?” It was so common that it was brought to the attention of Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris.
To give her perspective on the vaccine’s safety, Kolata said, “it’s really hard to know, but there are multiple phases a vaccine has to go through before it can even be available to the public.”
“After being tested on small animals and some volunteers to make sure of its safety, the vaccine is tested on more volunteers for some level of efficacy and side effects. Tens of thousands of people will be tested with the vaccine and its placebo to find out its efficacy,” Kolata continued. “Currently, only two vaccines we are talking about have passed all of these and are waiting for the FDA’s approval.”
Kolata also remarked that, “Usually vaccines are made of a killed virus to help your body recognize and produce antibodies to it. But, these have some genetic material of the virus to instruct your cells to produce some spike protein that feeds the virus, giving your immune system enough time to recognize the virus and produce antibodies. The vaccine has been proven to have 92 percent effectiveness”
“However”, she said, “assuming that people do want this vaccine, the next question is: who can get their hands on it? The Center of Disease Control still hasn’t decided yet.”
“Undoubtedly it has to go to healthcare workers, nursing homes workers and first responders before anyone else, but if it is not sufficient for them, 10 percent of these vaccines will go to hard-hit areas,” Kolata explained. “This is measured by the Social Vulnerability Index, which takes into account how crowded the area is, reliance on public transportation, race, poverty level, etc. After that, vaccines will go to essential workers, old people who have other conditions and eventually normal people, like us. In all of these cases, 10 percent will always be reserved for people with social vulnerability. But it all comes down to whether or not people want to take this vaccine, given that it’s our only way out of this situation.”
Adding to all of the additional issues, the vaccine has to be kept in cold temperatures and only remains good for an hour or so. As a result, the shipment and storage of this vaccine will be another hard-to-solve case, as noted by Kolata. However, she reminded us that despite the remaining problems, we have come an incredibly long way since the outbreak of this virus, and we need to remain optimistic that this won’t go on forever.
“If everything goes absolutely smoothly, by the end of 2020 the vaccine will make it to first responders and healthcare workers,” Kolata said.
The event offered some very insightful and optimistic perspectives about the current situation. Although an upcoming vaccine might mean that COVID-19 will be eradicated in the near future, for now, it’s important to not let our guards down and keep up the good work of protecting ourselves and the people around us.