Will a vaccine mean the immediate end of the coronavirus? A potential timeline.
STATEN ISLAND, NY – “It’s not vaccines that save lives, it’s vaccinations.”
Dr Mark J. Mulligan, Director of Division of Infectious Diseases and Immunology and the Vaccination center at Langone Health at New York University, chose this quote, often spoken by a respected colleague, because it best explains how he sees the next 18 months for Americans enduring the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic .
“We will have to continue with masks and social distancing long after the vaccine has been proven,” said Mulligan, who runs a Pfizer Inc. vaccine testing center that is now in the final stages of researching a promising candidate. . “We’re going to get through this. But even if there is a vaccine in early 2021, it will take several months or a year to see the full effect. ”
MORE THAN ONE MARATHON
As young and old alike focus on the COVID-19 vaccine race these days – seeing vaccine approval as the finish line and a return to normal life – Mulligan warned scientists are close to the finish line of the development sprint, but come back to normal life will be more of a marathon.
“Three hundred and seventy million Americans, not to mention the entire planet – it’s going to take a lot of vaccinations,” said Mulligan, whose infectious disease research programs have, for decades, evaluated experimental vaccines for HIV and several other viruses, including Zika, Ebola and pandemic influenza.
The goal of vaccination is to create herd immunity, achieved when a high percentage of a community becomes immune to a disease. No one knows what percentage of the population will need the vaccine to achieve herd immunity against the coronavirus, Mulligan said. For highly contagious measles, 95% is needed to control the spread. For influenza, that number is closer to 60% or 70%.
Around the world, scientists are working on more than 165 vaccines for the coronavirus, which has infected more than 22.7 million people and killed at least 794,100 in more than seven months, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University .
And more than 20 companies and research institutes have introduced their vaccines for human testing at record speed. Vaccines typically require years of research and testing before they get to the clinic, but scientists are rushing to produce this one early next year.
Operation Warp Speed (OWS), a partnership between the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the US Department of Defense, engages private companies and other federal agencies to develop and produce 300 million COVID-19 vaccine doses for the United States. States as of early 2021.
In addition to Pfizer, four other companies were chosen to receive research funding: AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Merck and Moderna.
Moderna and Pfizer currently have phase three vaccines, while others are in phase two.
But what if people fear a “rushed” vaccine, object to the use of animals in some of the tests, or prefer to step back and let others be the “guinea pigs”?
As his clinical trials continue at a record pace, Mulligan said he is maintaining his research and is optimistic about the vaccine’s promise.
“There was some concern because we called this ‘Operation Warped Speed’, that we were cutting corners,” said Mulligan. “In the United States, no corner of safety is cut, and vaccines, if approved, will be safe, well tolerated and effective. Vaccines have always been our best weapon. “
And, with 7.8 billion humans on the planet, it’s likely the world will need more than one vaccine maker, he said.
Even then, vaccine production will take time, he warned.
“It may take months for the vaccine to become available,” once approval is obtained, he said. And, just like the flu shot in 2009, the first to receive it will be first responders, essential workers, and those at higher risk from chronic disease, he said.
“Just because it is effective does not mean that it will be available all at once in the United States,” he added.
However, the schedule for producing such a large number of vaccine doses, with some candidates still only in phase I or II, is very optimistic, given that vaccine developments took a minimum of five years to complete. the past.
“It’s a public health emergency,” he said. “And I was impressed with the planning and the intense effort.”
Still, reluctance to vaccinate can hamper efforts to control the spread of the virus, scientists fear.
“We’ve seen this with measles,” Mulligan said. “It’s about fighting myths. We have a continuing need to educate people. “
Those who hesitate should consider their social responsibility, as well as their own health, Mulligan said.
“Even if they do not feel personally concerned, the vaccination has an altruistic value,” he said. “They should do it for the vulnerable people around them.”
The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) now estimates that 40% of those infected do not have symptoms.
The public can seriously curb the spread of the virus and prevent a return to the situation as it did in the spring of 2020 by making permanent adjustments to their lives – wearing masks, keeping safe social distancing and avoiding crowds, Mulligan said, echoing the sentiments of World Health Organization leaders, including its Director General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
“Every person can make a difference in the pandemic,” Ghebreyesus said in late August. “Each person and family has a responsibility to know the level of transmission of COVID-19 locally and to understand what they can do to protect themselves and others. “
Failure to do so will cost lives and prolong the pandemic, doctors and scientists continue to warn.
“I’ve heard that a mask is kind of a vaccine that you wear outside of your body,” Mulligan said. “It’s a public health emergency, but we’re going to be okay with it.”