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COVID-19 vaccine and ongoing pandemic

There is a great deal of hype about the coronavirus vaccine (Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine) which on Friday, Dec. 11 received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration allowing the vaccine to be administered in the United States.

This news is welcome but it is not the “silver bullet” that the American public so desperately wants (1). The good news is that we should all be comfortable that the vaccine is safe and effective. Although both the Centers for Disease Control and FDA have made some noteworthy blunders and have succumbed to political pressure during the course of this pandemic, this decision to authorize use of this vaccine is neither carless nor politically motivated. The EUA decision is based on sound science and has the unanimous support of public health experts (2). A separate panel in New York (COVID-19 Clinical Advisory Task Force) firmly supports the release of this vaccine (3). There have been some minor complications (pain at the injection site, chills, headache, etc.) but the vaccine is both safe and effective.

Unfortunately, however, there will only be 100 million doses of this vaccine available in the United States. This is enough to vaccinate 50 million people since everyone needs two shots three weeks apart. New York State will get 340,000 doses of this vaccine — 170,000 doses this year and 170,000 in early 2021. (4) New York will also get 346,000 doses of a similar vaccine made by another manufacturer, Moderna, if it is approved and the FDA and approval is expected within a week. These initial allocations of vaccine will be given to front-line medical workers and to individuals at highest risk for death and severe illness — residents of long-term care facilities (5). Bear in mind that only the people who get vaccinated will be protected from COVID-19 — there will be no significant effect on the pandemic. We might have gotten more than 100 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine but the Trump administration squandered the opportunity to get a larger amount long ago and the company found other byers (6). The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine requires extremely cold temperatures for preservation and transport so it would be impractical to use it for widespread inoculations anyway.

Fortunately, other vaccines for COVID-19 which will be much easier to distribute are right around the corner–the Moderna vaccine will probably be approved within days and others will likely be cleared by the FDA within days the next few months.

Realistically, wide-spread distribution of coronavirus vaccines in the United States will not take place until the summer or fall of 2021.

But, we do not have to wait for the vaccines to control the pandemic. The reason the pandemic is raging out of control with over 200,000 cases and more than 2,000 deaths daily while causing disruption of the economy and education is that Americans refuse to use the readily available tools to stop the spread of a droplet/airborne disease–universal masking, social distancing, frequent hand washing and especially avoiding unnecessary travel and social gatherings. Public Health experts predict worsening surges of COVID-19 over the next few months, particularly if we continue our behavior which can only be described as irresponsible and destructive.

Michael C. Sinclair, MD, lives in Vermontville.

References:

(1) www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/8-things.html

(2) www.nytimes.com/2020/12/10/ health/covid-vaccine-pfizer-fda.html

(3) email@exec.ny.gov, Dec. 11, 2020

(4) www.nytimes.com/interactive/ 2020/12/11/us/covid-19-vaccine-doses.html

(5) www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/health/covid-vaccine-states-distribution-doses/

(6) www.biospace.com/article/u-s-government-passes-on-opportunity-to-buy-more-pfizer-vaccine-doses/

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