If you’re fighting a battle and the cavalry is on the way, you don’t stop shooting; you keep going until the cavalry gets here, and then you might even want to continue fighting,” Dr. Anthony Fauci declared recently.
He was speaking of the need to maintain the observing of social distance, the wearing of masks in public and of limiting trips out, in order to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus, the organism which causes COVID-19, even with various signs that vaccines for the deadly disease may soon be available.
This past week, Pfizer asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to give them emergency authorization to begin distributing their vaccine. This week, AstraZeneca said their own vaccine seems to be effective. Moderna is expected to request permission to distribute their vaccine soon.
The average person will still have to wait months for a vaccination, however. The first doses will be reserved for people at high risk of infection, such as health care professionals and first responders. Other high-risk groups – the elderly, prison inmates and homeless people – will probably be at the front of the line, also. Distribution is complicated by the fact that the Pfizer vaccine requires a second vaccination three weeks after the first, while the Moderna needs a second shot after four weeks.
Recently interviewed on CNN, U.S. vaccine-development chief Moncef Slaoui said data suggests that at least 70% of the population would have to be vaccinated with either the Pfizer or the Moderna vaccine before the country could achieve “herd immunity,” adding that this could be accomplished as early as May.
It remains to be seen if this ambitious goal can really be accomplished so quickly, since there has never been a vaccination campaign this size in U.S. history, but Paul Mango of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said that within 48 hours of being authorized to distribute the vaccines now being stockpiled, nurses would be “putting needles in people’s arms.”
Dr. Bill Moss, an infectious-disease expert at Johns Hopkins, cautioned, “It’s going to be a slow process and it’s going to be a process with ups and downs, like we’ve seen already.”
“One of the things that may be a factor that hasn’t been discussed that much is: ‘How many will be willing to be vaccinated?’” asked Christine Finley, director of Vermont’s immunization program, noting the widespread belief that vaccines are unsafe. Repeated proof that these fears are groundless has not made much headway against the belief.
AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna all claim that early trial data shows their vaccine is 90% effective, but firm data will have to wait for the trials to be completed.
Doctors also warn that the earliest COVID-19 vaccines might only prevent illness, not infection, so a vaccinated person might still be able to infect others, including people who had not been vaccinated.
Deborah Fuller, a vaccine expert at the University of Washington, told OPB that it could take two weeks after a second vaccination (six weeks after the first) to achieve full immunity. A person who came down with COVID-19 days after their first vaccination might presume that the vaccine had caused their infection.
Wilbur Chen, a vaccine specialist at the University of Maryland, also warned that any vaccine, especially a new one, may have side effects. A trial in which 30,000 people were vaccinated might not reveal the existence of a rare side effect. Chen said it was important for public health officials to explain relative risks to the public to avoid panic from spreading among the public, which could result in people refusing to be vaccinated.
Dr. Edward Belongia, vaccine researcher at the Marshfield Clinic Research Institute in Wisconsin, warns that it would not be clear how long immunity granted by any of the vaccines will last, and that vaccination would probably provide no immunity at all if the virus mutates. How prone the novel coronavirus is to mutation is not known. Belongia and others suspect the virus will never be exterminated, and will simply recur annually like influenza and other viral illnesses.
In order to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus in Oregon, where there has recently been a sharp increase in COVID-19 infections, the Oregon Health Authority has issued the following instructions:
Masks are required everywhere in Oregon, except:
-At your own residence.
-In your own personal vehicle.
-In a private, individual workspace.
-If you are younger than five years of age.
-While eating or drinking.
-While you are engaged in an activity that makes wearing a mask, face covering or face shield not feasible, such as when taking a shower.
-While you are sleeping.
-When removing the mask briefly to confirm your identity to police, or at a bank.
If you have proof of a medical condition that makes it hard to breathe or a disability that prevents you from wearing a mask, you can request an accommodation from the business, venue or transit authority.
OHA does not recommend wearing a plastic face shield alone. While face shields can be very good at blocking droplets, they are not as good at stopping aerosols that can go around the shield. OHA recommends face shields only be used on a limited basis, for example when talking to someone who is deaf or hard of hearing and needs to read lips to communicate.