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It’s Here!

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Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash

The vaccine is here! After months of poor planning preventing passable performance, the light at the end of the tunnel has finally arrived. While a vaccine is not the all-inclusive Get Out of Pandemic Free Card we’ve been waiting for, it’s certainly the first bit of real good news on the virus front for some time.

After extensive trials, the current vaccine boasts a 90% reduction in COVID-19 cases.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is displaying a surprising rate of efficacy this early in the game. After extensive trials, the current vaccine boasts a 90% reduction in COVID-19 cases, far greater than the 60-70% that was expected. The current vaccine consists of two separate injections, followed by a two month observation period to monitor for any unusual side effects. This observation period will be ending sometime next week, so we’ll have more accurate data then. Furthermore, the vaccine has been geared towards “normal” cases of COVID-19: there’s not enough data available yet to say how it responds to either more severe or alternately, those sneaky asymptomatic cases.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine uses what’s known as “messenger RNA” (or mRNA) to effectively send a biological telegram to your body’s immune system showing it how to best battle the virus, rather than letting it figure it out on its own. There has never been any product or treatment authorized for public distribution that uses mRNA technology, and to be fair, we can expect at least the first waves of vaccines to be distributed without peer review or publication, circumstances being what they are. No doubt there’s an added element of risk involved with these decisions, but the math looks promising enough for now. The other options on the table at present are genetically engineering a virus or injecting the anti-COVID protein directly and hoping the body figures it out. It all sounds a little on the creepy side, but it’s no surprise we’re not getting out of this thing without some good old-fashioned human courage and ingenuity.

While side effects of the vaccine are obviously much less dangerous than COVID-19, they are to be expected, as is the case with any “adult” vaccine. Headaches and fevers have been reported.

How and when?

50 million doses could be available by the end of the year, and a further 1.3 billion could be produced in 2021

There’s also the issue of distribution. Vaccines don’t do much until you give them to people, and even once a vaccine goes into widespread production it still must be safely transported and given to folks. Even beyond logistical concerns, there’s the fact that the virus is of course somewhat fragile and must be stored in a “super-cold” environment in order to remain potent, so it’s not like these things will be getting dropped in the mail.

It’s estimated that 50 million doses could be available by the end of the year, and a further 1.3 billion could be produced in 2021. Whether or not that’s going to be enough remains to be seen, but it’s also likely that production could be ramped up depending on just how fun next year decides to be. And as a final caution against optimism, let’s remember that not every vaccine is a one-and-done: given the proven ability of COVID-19 to mutate, it’s possible we could be looking at a scenario similar to the seasonal flu, with annual vaccines being advised as needed.

Whatever the case, it’s nice to hear some good news that isn’t tainted with disingenuous or partisan politics. Since it can no longer be leveraged for political grandstanding, perhaps the pandemic will be addressed in a more level-headed fashion moving forward in this country, and I can go back to trying to figure out something new to write about every couple of weeks. With numerous different companies including Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Johnson and Johnson working on their own vaccines, we might even get to watch capitalism put in a little work for the rest of us as they figure out how best to keep COVID on the ropes.

Stay safe, be healthy, and enjoy the win, gang. We’re getting there.

Galen Lastko, submitted on behalf of the SoHum Health’s Outreach department.