Thankful for Good Vaccine News
Every Monday since November 9, we have received good news from pharmaceutical companies—Pfizer and BioNTech, Moderna, and Astrazenica—about the efficacy of their candidate coronavirus vaccines. All are upwards of 90 percent effective.
This Thanksgiving, we are grateful for the medical researchers, the funding, and the urgency that made these advances possible so quickly, and we are ready to receive and store the vaccines when they arrive. They should be available in limited supply next month and to the public in the early spring. Right now, we are working on plans to administer them.
But having a vaccine is only a little more than half of what is necessary to defeat the pandemic. The other half depends on each one of us individually and our willingness to get the vaccine when it becomes available. If you are ready to roll up your sleeve, thank you. I am ready to get mine! If you are feeling like you might want to “wait and see,” I have a number of points to share.
#1: Just as masks are most effective when everyone wears them, vaccines are most effective when everyone gets one. Both masks and vaccines help limit the spread of the virus. If one person in a group is infected but the group is either masked or vaccinated, the virus has a much more difficult time spreading to others.
When enough people are vaccinated, we can reach “herd immunity,” a greater amount of protection that can be achieved only in a group. If only some are vaccinated, those who are not will still spread the disease. Especially if we relax precautions, those who are not vaccinated could spread it even to people who are. In short, we need everyone to get the vaccine. That’s the quickest way to get the virus under control and be able to release some of the restrictions.
#2: Vaccines are very safe. They have been used to defeat the world’s most contagious diseases, including the measles, polio, and smallpox. Each one has undergone the same very well-established and rigorous scientific evaluation process as our new COVID vaccines. And so will each and every COVID vaccine that is approved. The process is not unique to COVID vaccines. It is tried and true.
#3: Some might raise the concern that these vaccines are being developed more quickly than those in the past. This is true, but it’s not because scientists are cutting corners. The COVID vaccines still need to meet the same rigorous safety requirements. It’s faster, because companies have lots of funding, and all other priorities have been pushed aside. Finding a COVID vaccine is a worldwide priority, so scientists are working around the clock 7 days a week.
#4: Those concerned about safety might be comforted to know that—when you combine all of the projects and remove the groups who received a placebo vaccine—more than 100,000 people have been vaccinated already with active vaccine. Those who are vaccinated are observed very closely to determine if they experience any negative side effects. No safety concerns so far have been identified in association with the vaccines that are in phase three trials.
We should note that even if everyone is vaccinated, the disease will not disappear entirely. Ninety percent is not 100 percent. We expect small numbers of cases to be with us for a very long time. But, when enough people get vaccinated, we can put an end to the emotional and economic destruction that has occurred and get back to work, family, and friends in a way that looks a lot more like 2019.
While we wait for our vaccines to arrive, please maintain all of the precautions to reduce the spread of the virus. Meetings with those you do not live with—even outdoors, masked, and distanced—should be avoided at this time. Together, we can limit the spread for the months between now and when we are all vaccinated.
Marie George, MD, FIDSA, is the infectious disease specialist at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center.