Like everyone else in this pandemic-ravaged world, I have been closely following any and all news regarding a COVID-19 vaccine. I liken it to waiting in a burning building with millions of other people and only a handful of firefighters trying to save the day. Those who have been working on this effort are real-life superheroes and we should be cheering them on.
Now, I’ve had some strong opinions about those who denigrate science, but I’ve also been very reluctant to get excited about any potentially good news. I attribute some of that to being jaded and cynical after seeing this pandemic do so much damage. I don’t deny that my spirit is still quite wounded after nearly a year of objectively awful news.
Well, wounded or not, the work continues. Those real-life superheroes I mentioned have never stopped this vital effort. To them, we should all be in awe, as well as grateful, because it looks like an effective vaccine is actually on the horizon, courtesy of Pfizer.
For those who might be a bit behind, this is what the Associated Press reported.
Pfizer Inc. said Monday that its COVID-19 vaccine may be a remarkable 90% effective, based on early and incomplete test results that nevertheless brought a big burst of optimism to a world desperate for the means to finally bring the catastrophic outbreak under control.
The announcement came less than a week after an election seen as a referendum on President Donald Trump’s handling of the scourge, which has killed more than 1.2 million people worldwide, including almost a quarter-million in the United States alone.
“We’re in a position potentially to be able to offer some hope,” Dr. Bill Gruber, Pfizer’s senior vice president of clinical development, told The Associated Press. “We’re very encouraged.”
Pfizer, which is developing the vaccine with its German partner BioNTech, now is on track to apply later this month for emergency-use approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, once it has the necessary safety information in hand.
Even if all goes well, authorities have stressed it is unlikely any vaccine will arrive much before the end of the year, and the limited initial supplies will be rationed.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious-disease expert, said the results suggesting 90% effectiveness are “just extraordinary,” adding: “Not very many people expected it would be as high as that.”
I don’t want to understate or overstate the importance of this news. This is a big deal. This isn’t some hyped up treatment, like Hydroxychloroquine. This is a real vaccine developed by a real company by real scientists.
It’s also not one of those treatments that just came off the drawing board. This vaccine is currently in Phase 3 trials, which is the last phase for any vaccine or treatment to pass before it’s ultimately approved for public use. That means this vaccine is on the home stretch. It could conceivably be approved within the next few months.
That’s very different from some of the other overhyped treatments that were floating around earlier this year. That’s also why I didn’t get my hopes up. Most of those treatments weren’t beyond the first phase of testing and the vast majority of new drugs never make it to the final phase. The fact that this vaccine is even at that point is reason for hope.
Now, a part of me is genuinely encouraged by this. However, another part is still concerned.
My concern, however, has little to do with the science or the testing. I understand why it has to be so rigorous. I would defer to those much smarter and more experienced than me to deal with the specifics. Much of my concern has to do with the perceptions and perspectives this vaccine will bring if and when it’s approved.
The first part of that concern stems somewhat from lingering cynicism. I genuinely worry that once news comes out that the vaccine is approved and being used, too many people will start behaving as though the pandemic is over. They’ll stop wearing masks and they’ll stop social distancing.
Even with a working vaccine, that will make things worse and people will suffer because of it. We already have enough problems with people refusing to wear masks. A vaccine could only make it worse and cause a spike in cases before the effects can take hold.
That is worth belaboring. It will take time for a vaccine’s effects to be felt. Even if this particular vaccine is available on January 1st, 2021, it’s going to take months for enough doses to be given. That doesn’t even get into the challenge of manufacture and distribution.
If we do eventually get to a post-pandemic world in 2021, it’s probably not going to be until some point later in the year. That’s not pessimism or cynicism. That’s just science and biology.
Another concern I have is basically the same I had when this mess started. Thanks to anti-science, anti-vaccine advocates, this pandemic could ultimately get extended because of peoples’ reluctance to take the vaccine. Even if these people are a minority, that’s still a huge problem that will ultimately hurt people.
Even those who aren’t advocates may still be reluctant to accept the science. There are members of my own family who are as reasonable and rational as they come, but even they say they will not be first in line to get the vaccine. That’s actually a popular sentiment. People say they support vaccines, but they won’t be first in line to get it.
To those people, I respectfully ask that you reconsider that position. Like it or not, this pandemic won’t end until enough people take this vaccine and develop immunity. Someone has to be first in line. If no one is willing to take the chance, then the virus will just keep spreading. It does not care how reluctant you are. It just cares that you’re vulnerable.
To that end, I’d like to state outright that, should this particular vaccine get approved for public use, I will gladly be first in line to take it. I’ll take that risk. I’ll roll up my sleeve and trust the scientists who worked so hard on this thing. If nothing happens, then I hope that’s enough to allay your fears and concerns.
I want this pandemic to end. We all do, at this point. I’d like to go to a movie theater or a baseball game at some point next year. However, we can’t wait for someone to end it for us. We have to play a part. The scientists and doctors are clearly doing theirs, more so than I can put into words. Now, let’s be ready and willing to do ours.