Panama City, FL –
NEW YORK (AP) – Don’t even think about putting the mask away anytime soon.
Despite the expected arrival of COVID-19 vaccines in just a few weeks, it could take several months – possibly until 2021 – before things return to something near normal in the United States and Americans can go to the movies again, cheer at an NBA game, or give Grandma a hug.
The first limited vaccine shipments would only mark the beginning of what could be a long and messy road to end the pandemic that has life-shaken and killed more than a quarter of a million people in the United States. Americans are being warned not to let our guard down.
“If you fight and the cavalry is on the way, you keep firing; you keep going until the cavalry gets here, and you might even want to keep fighting, ”said Dr Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading infectious disease specialist, last week.
This week, AstraZeneca became the third vaccine manufacturer to say initial data indicates their vaccines are highly effective. Pfizer last week applied to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency clearance to start distributing its vaccine, and Moderna is expected to do the same every day. Federal officials say the first doses will be shipped within a day of clearance.
But most people will likely have to wait months for vaccines to become widely available. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines also require two doses each, which means people will have to come back for a second injection after three and four weeks, respectively, to get full protection.
Moncef Slaoui, head of the vaccine development effort in the United States, told CNN on Sunday that the first injection data from Pfizer and Moderna suggests that around 70% of the population should be vaccinated to gain immunity. collective – a milestone he said is likely to happen. in May.
But along the way, experts say the logistical challenges of the largest vaccination campaign in U.S. history and public fear and misinformation could hamper the effort and end the pandemic later. .
“It will be a slow process and it will be a process with ups and downs, as we’ve seen before,” said Dr. Bill Moss, an infectious disease expert at Johns Hopkins University.
SHOOTING IN WEAPONS
Once federal officials give a vaccine the green light, doses that are already in storage will be deployed with the aim of “putting needles in people’s arms” within 24 to 48 hours, said Paul Mango, an official. from the US Department of Health and Human Services involved in the Operation Warp Speed effort to develop vaccines against COVID-19.
These early shipments are expected to be limited and directed to high-risk groups in designated locations, such as frontline healthcare workers in hospitals.
Federal and state officials are still figuring out exactly how to prioritize those most at risk, including the elderly, inmates and the homeless. By the end of January, HHS officials say, all seniors should be able to get vaccinated, assuming a vaccine is available by the end of 2020.
For everyone else, they expect the widespread availability of vaccines to begin a few months later.
To make snapshots easily accessible, state and federal authorities use a large network of suppliers, such as pharmacies and medical offices.
But some fear that long queues may not be the problem.
“One of the things that may be a factor that hasn’t been discussed much is, ‘How many will be ready to be vaccinated? Said Christine Finley, director of the Vermont vaccination program. She noted that the accelerated development of the vaccine and the policies surrounding it have fueled concerns about safety.
Even if the first vaccines prove to be as effective as the first data suggests, they won’t have much impact if enough people don’t take them.
NO MAGIC BULLET
Vaccines do not always work for everyone: Over the past decade, for example, seasonal flu shots have been effective in about 20% to 60% of people who get them.
AstraZeneca, Pfizer, and Moderna say initial trial data suggests their vaccine candidates are around 90% or more effective. But these rates could change upon graduation.
In addition, the definition of “effective” may vary.
Rather than completely preventing infection, the first COVID-19 vaccines could only prevent disease. People who have been vaccinated may still be able to transmit the virus, another reason why experts say masks will remain essential for some time.
Another important aspect of vaccines is that they can take a long time to work.
The first injection of a COVID-19 vaccine could result in some degree of protection over a matter of weeks, meaning those infected might not get as sick as they would otherwise be. But full protection could take up to two weeks after the second shot – or about six weeks after the first shot, said Deborah Fuller, a vaccine expert at the University of Washington.
People who don’t understand this discrepancy might mistakenly think the vaccine made them sick if they contract COVID-19 soon after an injection. People could also blame the vaccine for unrelated health issues and amplify those fears online.
“All you need is a few people to get on social media,” said Moss of Johns Hopkins University.
There is also the possibility of real side effects. COVID-19 vaccine trials must include at least 30,000 people, but the chances of a rare side effect appearing are more likely as more people are vaccinated.
Even though a link between the vaccine and a possible side effect seems likely, vaccine distribution might not be interrupted if the risk is judged to be low and is outweighed by the benefits, said Dr Wilbur Chen, a vaccine expert at the ‘University of Maryland.
But Chen said public health officials will need to clearly explain the relative risks to avoid public panic.
According to Dr Edward Belongia, a vaccine researcher at the Marshfield Clinic Research Institute in Wisconsin, depending on whether the virus mutates in the coming years and how long the vaccine’s protection lasts, later booster shots may also be needed.
Belongia and many others say the coronavirus will never be eradicated and will become one of the many seasonal viruses that plague people. How quickly will vaccines help reduce the threat of the virus to this level?
“At this point, we just have to wait and see,” Belongia said.
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