- Several coronavirus vaccine trials will soon be finished and some of the frontrunners might be deemed safe and effective for emergency use.
- Health officials from the World Health Organization and Dr. Anthony Fauci warn that the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines won’t be enough to reduce the transmission of the illness anytime soon.
- Fauci says that precautionary measures including face masks, social distancing, and frequent handwashing will need to continue even after vaccines arrive.
The FDA will host a significant coronavirus vaccine meeting in just a few weeks, at which point we might find out more details about the progress of experimental drugs that have reached the final phase of testing. Vaccine candidates from AstraZeneca/Oxford, Pfizer/BioNTech, and Moderna have Phase 3 trials underway and some of them expect to have conclusions in the coming months — one has been paused the US trial after an unexpected side effect in one person, although the UK trial has already been restarted. Vaccine candidates from Johnson & Johnson and Novavax are also moving forward with promising results, with the latter having just reached Phase 3. That’s only five potential COVID-19 vaccines out of dozens of candidates that have been announced so far. China and Russia have their own vaccines in Phase 3 trials, and both countries have already started administering emergency immunizations.
Vaccination remains a sensitive topic, as more polls show that Americans are increasingly reluctant to get one. Some people worry about the safety of these drugs that have moved forward at such an unusual speed, especially in light of the highly politicized nature of vaccine conversations ahead of the November election. A large percentage of the world’s population will have to be vaccinated to reduce the transmission rate of COVID-19. The logistics of manufacturing and deploying vaccines combined with vaccine resistance would lead to something that might seem counterintuitive. The arrival of vaccines will not mark an end for the need to wear face masks and take other precautionary measures that can prevent infection. It’s quite the contrary, as Dr. Anthony Fauci and World Health Organization officials recently explained.
Fauci said on Thursday that no coronavirus vaccine will be 100% effective, and it won’t be taken by 100% of the population. This will allow the virus to continue to spread. An effective vaccine would therefore not mean people can stop wearing face masks and taking other public health measures, like social distancing and washing hands regularly.
“It is not going to eliminate the need to be prudent and careful with our public health measures,” Fauci said during a Facebook Live conversation with New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, per Associated Press. “I think if we can get 75 to 80% of the population vaccinated, I think that would be a really good accomplishment,” Fauci said of vaccines, noting that he’s practical about the matter.
The doctor also addressed a recent CDC controversy regarding aerosol transmission. “There’s good enough data to say that aerosol transmission does occur,” Fauci told Murphy. The virus lingers in the air “for a period of time,” instead of falling to the ground, which is what happens with larger saliva droplets.
WHO officials echoed those remarks on Friday when addressing the imminent milestone of the COVID-19 pandemic. The illness will have killed its one-millionth victim by Monday, according to covid trackers. WHO said that figure might double in if countries do not work uniformly to reduce the spread. It’s not just vaccines that will prevent the spread of the illness, but also public health measures that can reduce the transmission.
“It’s certainly unimaginable, but it’s not impossible, because if we look at losing 1 million people in nine months and then we just look at the realities of getting vaccines out there in the next nine months, it’s a big task for everyone involved,” executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies program, Dr. Mike Ryan, said during a news conference in Geneva. “The real question is: Are we prepared, collectively, to do what it takes to avoid that number?”
Like Fauci, Ryan said that vaccines have to be combined with everything else that can prevent the infection, including face masks.
“The time for action is now on every single aspect of this strategic approach,” Ryan said. “Not just test and trace, not just clinical care, not just social distancing, not just hygiene, not just masks, not just vaccines. Do it all. And unless we do it all, [2 million deaths] are not only imaginable but unfortunately and sadly very likely.”
WHO’s technical lead on the pandemic, Maria Van Kerkhove, warned that the number of cases in Europe is rising and that the flu season hasn’t even started. “We’re at the end of September, not even toward the end of September, and we haven’t even started our flu season yet,” she said. “What we are worried about is the possibility that these trends are going in the wrong direction.”
Dr. Bruce Aylward, a senior advisor to the WHO director-general, made a point that the endgame shouldn’t be vaccines. “Whether another million people die of Covid-19 is not a function of whether or not we have a vaccine. It’s a function of whether or not we put the tools, approaches, and knowledge we have today to work to save lives and prevent transmission,” Aylward said. “If we start thinking about it as a function of the vaccine, people will unnecessarily and unacceptably die as we wait for a vaccine. We should not be waiting.”