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A vaccine doesn’t really end the pandemic

With vaccine distribution likely weeks away, spirits have been buoyed at the thought of a literal shot in the arm after months of covid-19 anxiety and fatigue. While that optimism is just fine, experts say, many countries may face months of continued mitigation measures before vaccination becomes a reality.
 
“Though these vaccines are lights at the end of the tunnel, we’re still in the tunnel,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a Pittsburgh-based infectious disease expert.
 
Pfizer, the front-runner of the half-dozen covid-19 vaccines in development right now, applied for an emergency use authorization last weekend. The application is the latest in a chain of events that still needs to see the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and its independent advisers rule on whether the vaccine is ready.
 
The emergency use authorization, or EUA, “is a quick way of cutting through the FDA approval process.” The panel of experts will dig into the data gathered by the studies and trials – a full picture of the 90%, 95% effectiveness rate the pharmaceutical companies have been touting – and ultimately make a recommendation as to whether the vaccine should be authorized despite not having the usual level of evidence.
 
By legal standards, pharmaceutical companies must only show there is “reasonable evidence” that the vaccine will be safe and effective. Once that happens, advisers the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must solidify a plan for who is first in line for the vaccine.
First in line will likely be health care workers and the most vulnerable populations, Adalja said, something that has already been seen in CDC draft plans.
 
“To turn a vaccine into a vaccination is a long process,” Adalja said, as huge swaths of the population will need to receive the vaccine. Both the Pfizer vaccine and the Moderna vaccine candidate, which is not far behind Pfizer in the road to reality, require two doses given about three weeks apart.
 
“You’re talking hundreds of millions of doses that need to be made, and they’re not going to be available all at once,” he said. “They’re going to trickle out over time, and there are going to be priority groups set for those who should receive the vaccine first.”
 
That’s why continuing mitigation efforts – staying physically apart, wearing masks and washing hands – remain vital to get the country over this mountain and into that timeframe where the vaccine supply will be able to meet the demand.
 
But, it’s important to keep in mind that vaccines aren’t necessarily a finite ‘solution’ but they are an important step toward controlling the pandemic.
 
Manufacturing and distribution take time, and there will likely be a lag because of a limited supply. While vaccinations of select groups could happen before year’s end, she said the majority of vaccines will be released in the first months of 2021. 
 
A widely distributed vaccine will go a long way in bringing back a sense of normalcy — or at least some sense of what used to be normal.
It’s likely that we won’t be back to completely normal for a while — maybe never — due to an increased awareness of infectious diseases passed from person to person. The vaccine will not fix the here and now. 
 
Adding vaccines is going to give us a huge chance. But if we add vaccines and forget the other things, COVID does not go to zero. We need to add vaccination to the existing physical measures, being careful, and hygiene – if we add that to the vaccine, we will go a long way toward getting rid of this virus.
 
It is a reality that public health leaders locally and nationally have been pushing all along and even more so as the vaccines become tangible.
 
A lot will depend on exactly how much vaccine we get, which will determine how many people we can vaccinate. Additionally, getting vaccinated with a highly efficacious vaccine does not mean you’re going to completely abandon public health measures,” he said, indicating that masks and distancing will remain part of daily life for some time.
 
A vaccine keeps you from getting the disease and the symptoms, not from getting the virus. You might not feel ill or show any symptoms, and that means the vaccine is successful, but it doesn’t mean you can’t have the virus and thus, spread it to others.
 
Moreover, the World Health Organization cautioned that approval of a vaccine does not mean the COVID-19 pandemic is over. Speaking at the organization’s regular briefing in Geneva, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said many places around the world are facing very high transmission rates of coronavirus, and even as vaccines are approved, people must still follow national and local measures to limit the spread of infection.
 
He said decisions made by citizens and governments would determine its course in the short run and when the pandemic would ultimately end. He said that while “vaccines and vaccination provide a major, powerful tool to the toolkit that we have, but by themselves, they will not do the job.”

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