Just in time for the holiday season comes a little much-needed hope. The development of a promising COVID-19 vaccine — two versions, in fact — has assured Americans that a solution to the scourge is, if not right around the corner, within sight of the corner.
While many have been doing their best to avoid infection and avoid infecting others, we’ve known for some time that the only real solution would be an effective vaccine. Now, the most optimistic projections say one could be provisionally available as early as next month.
Pfizer Inc. announced last week that the vaccine it’s testing is 95% effective. Pfizer says the vaccine is safe and has no serious side effects.
“This is an extraordinarily strong protection,” Dr. Ugur Sahin, the CEO and co-founder of BioNTech, Pfizer’s German partner, told The Associated Press.
On Friday, Pfizer asked the Food and Drug Administration to allow emergency use of its vaccine, based on its good safety record. Pfizer is also seeking approval in Europe and the U.K.
“Our work to deliver a safe and effective vaccine has never been more urgent,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said in a statement.
If approval is given, about 25 million doses could become available in December, according to information presented to the National Academy of Medicine.
There’s a Christmas present for you.
Thirty-five million more doses could be made available in February and March.
Shortly following Pfizer’s announcement, Moderna Inc. announced its success in testing a COVID-19 vaccine, rated at 94.5% effective. Moderna also will be applying for emergency authorization within weeks.
Other versions are also still being developed.
Despite these developments, neither vaccine is likely to be widely available until the spring. And the first doses will likely go, appropriately, to front-line health care workers. Even with emergency authorization, it could be a year before a vaccine is available to the public at large.
“Help is on the way,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, said last week. But he added, “We need to actually double down on the public health measures as we're waiting for that help to come.”
Unfortunately, many more are likely to die between now and then — especially if they don’t take precautions.
So don’t put those masks away yet. This is good news, but it’s not a miracle.
Moderna designed and tested its vaccine with $1 billion provided by President Trump’s Operation Warp Speed initiative. It stands to receive up to $2.45 billion more. Trump deserves credit for pushing this program and pushing researchers to find ways to streamline vaccine development. The results are practically revolutionary, and will no doubt have life-saving applications in future virus outbreaks. The deployment of vaccines is also likely to be accelerated. Undoubtedly, Trump’s initiative has been a huge success.
"To all of the scientists, everyone behind this all the way up to President Trump and Vice President (Mike) Pence, congratulations on this great accomplishment," CNN host Jake Tapper said earlier this month.
Unfortunately, that credit has to be tempered against the rest of Trump’s COVID response, which has overall been weak. His muddled messaging, including criticism of his own administration’s experts, have fueled skepticism and misinformation — that’s one reason the virus is spiking again. His claim that the FDA had withheld news of vaccine development to hurt his reelection campaign is embarrassing.
While the spread of the virus has grown considerably worse — straining medical workers and resources throughout the country to the breaking point — Trump is now concentrating his efforts on overthrowing the results of the 2020 presidential election or, failing that, sowing doubt about the results with a misinformation campaign.
His refusal to acknowledge his defeat also makes it more difficult for the incoming Biden administration to receive the COVID information it needs to help protect the American people.
We wish Trump’s focus were a little less on himself and more on the American people’s health, but that would call for him to be a different person.
In the meantime, with solid progress on vaccine development, we can all enter the holiday season thankful for some good news.