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Vaccine distribution could face challenges

December 9, 2020

Over the past nine months, people’s lives have been taken over by a pandemic that has killed nearly 1.5 million people across the world. The pandemic has spiraled out of control causing many people to lose their jobs because it is no longer safe to attend work, or their workplaces can no longer pay them. Recently, two major companies, Moderna and Pfizer have released very promising news of vaccine candidates that, if approved, will hopefully help to bring a return to “normalcy”.

Dean of the College of Public Health at University of Nebraska Medical Center and former Assistant Surgeon General, Dr. Ali Khan and Epidemiology Fellow Munir Abulla explain that people should be very optimistic about these two vaccine candidates.

“We all should be very excited about these extraordinary results from Moderna and Pfizer of vaccines that are 95 percent efficacious. In fact, this is almost close to the highly efficacious and universally administered measles vaccine,” Khan says. “There are about eight other vaccines in development in phase three trials—very large trials of tens of thousands of people who are given either vaccine or placebo to see how many become infected and check for side-effects.”

Even though the news of highly efficacious vaccines is very promising and intriguing results, there will still be logistical issues that will have to be dealt with. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines both require multiple doses to be effective, which creates a whole set of problems.

“From my perspective, there is more critical challenge than the distribution which is the two require doses (3-4 weeks apart) for both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines,” Khan says. “We need to ensure that the vaccinees get the same brand of vaccine, remind them to receive their second shot, track recipients, monitor patients, and report any serious side effects.”

Both of these vaccines require to be kept at a very cold temperature, but Khan does not see this as a large problem.

“The Democratic Republic of Congo and other African countries were able to distribute Ebola vaccine that was stored in super cold temperature, so if they figured out how to handle it, we should be able to do it as well here in the U.S.” Khan says.

A poll from Gallup on Nov. 17 showed that around 58 percent of Americans would be willing to take the coronavirus vaccine. According to Khan and Abulla, more people may need to take the vaccine for it to be effective.

“The virus causing COVID-19 [SARS-CoV-2] is new, so we are still learning and we cannot be precise in the proportion of people who should get vaccinated to achieve herd immunity to COVID-19,” they say. “Herd immunity means the vast majority of the population is protected through the vaccine or from previous exposure. Different diseases have a different threshold of population immunity depending on their basic reproductive rate or how infectious they are.”

The reproductive rate of the Influenza strain that caused the 1918 pandemic is around 1.80 according to BMC Infectious Diseases, a portfolio of peer reviewed journals. Khan says that the reproductive rate of SARS-CoV-2 is around 2.5-3.5, meaning it spreads easier.

“Approximately 70 percent [of people] will need to be vaccinated. Scientists are still also learning about COVID-19 immunity,” Khan says. “Most people infected with COVID-19 developed an immune response within the first few weeks but we still don’t know how long it lasts or how durable it is. The same is true for vaccination so we may need to repeat vaccinations and never reach herd immunity.”

Khan says that now is a more important time than ever to be upping our observance of policies put in place by the CDC or local health departments.

“We should not deny the sad fact of 1400+ preventable deaths occurring every day who would be alive if we did the right things. It is important to get the COVID-19 Vaccine to protect our families and keep them healthy and safe,” Khan says. “Until we get the vaccine, we should redouble our efforts and do the simple public health measures needed to protect our self and our families by wearing mask, keeping safe distance, washing hands, staying home when sick, keeping your bubble small, and avoiding large gatherings.”

One final thing that Khan says people should consider when talking about the vaccine is who should be able to get it first.

“Healthcare workers [should get it first] because they are in a super high-risk area. People in nursing homes and long-term facilities – because 40 percent of deaths reported are in these facilities. Essential workers such as those who work in food and agriculture, manufacturing, law enforcement, education, transportation, corrections, and emergency response, because it is difficult to work at home,” Khan says. “Also, for the sake of social justice, we should consider some high risk groups who disproportionately were infected, hospitalized, and died.”

Two essential points of eventually getting rid of this disease will be trusting our scientists and remembering that people all need to work towards the common good.

“Again, for the vaccine to be highly effective and to end this pandemic, we must trust our scientists. We need to remember our common humanity a little more than striving for personal liberty, especially during a pandemic,” Khan says. “Before COVID-19, developing a vaccine might take years, but now with unprecedented investments we have a highly efficacious vaccine within months. This fantastic work by our scientists did not compromise safety nor scientific integrity. In fact, it is a reflection of the extraordinary scientific advances and evidence of American Ingenuity.”


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