NEWS THAT a vaccine under development against the novel coronavirus is 90% effective comes as a welcome message as America’s health care system deals with a COVID-19 surge.
Pfizer announced Monday that a vaccine has proved effective in early trials. The 90% percent effective rating, if it holds up when all testing is done, would be far higher than for most of the annual influenza vaccines.
The cure relies on a chemical marker of the virus so that it does not put anyone at risk with the live virus. So far, some test subjects have reported aches and a slight fever as the most common side effects.
“I believe that the path to get back to normal is now lighted and that path is this vaccine,” said Dr. Randal Williams, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.
There are still hurdles.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration still must approve any drug that will be used to combat COVID-19. Then there will have to be a priority list that determines who gets vaccinated first. Presumably, health care workers, first responders and other vital personnel will be the first to get the shots.
With a population of about 330 million people, it will take time to produce large amounts of medicine and then vaccinate all Americans who seek treatment.
In addition, there will be a complicating factor when transporting the vaccine. At this time researchers say they need to keep the medicine refrigerated at -70 degrees. That will require resources that aren’t readily available in many small towns, rural hospitals or pharmacies.
In tandem with the vaccination program, there will need to be a communications effort. There are billions of skeptics worldwide who eschew vaccinations due to fears about unintended side effects. A multinational survey conducted in October found that about 71% of respondents would be very or somewhat likely to get the vaccine. That leaves nearly 29% who do not expect to get the shot.
Long before health care officials try to win over some of those skeptics, they want to slow the rate of infections.
On Tuesday, the U.S. hit a record for coronavirus hospitalizations and surpassed 1 million new confirmed cases in the first 10 days of November. Many hospitals face a shortage of beds.
Fortunately, there have been advances in care that have improved the odds of survival for patients who need hospitalization. In the early days of the pandemic, U.S. statistics indicated that about 2% of those who came down with the coronavirus might die. That number has been declining as new drugs and treatments have been employed.
“We’re definitely in a better place” when it comes to improved medical tools and knowledge, said William Hanage, a Harvard University infectious-disease researcher.
The Centers for Disease Control also has updated its stance on face masks, saying that masks offer a level of protection for the wearer. Earlier CDC advisories had indicated that masks were primarily helpful in protecting those around the mask wearers.
Even though there are encouraging signs in the fight against the coronavirus, nobody should let their guard down. Frequent hand washing, use of masks in public, social distancing and avoiding crowds all reduce the chances of virus transmission.
With attention to the things we can control, the battle against COVID-19 will be won.