Experts say the finalization of a COVID-19 vaccine is in our near future.
Dr. William Moss is a professor of epidemiology and the executive director of the International Vaccine Access Center at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
“Remarkable progress has been made in the development of COVID-19 vaccines,” Dr. William Moss said.
He says it typically takes five to 10 years to develop a vaccine, but with so much money and attention going toward COVID-19, he believes it’s likely we’ll have a vaccine by the end of the year.
“I’m pretty confident that there will be a vaccine that will have an emergency-use authorization in the United States by the end of 2020,” Dr. Moss said.
According to Dr. Moss, of the dozens if not hundreds of vaccine candidates in clinical trials, there are three vaccine candidates that have reached phase three. Phase three is when tens of thousands of volunteers test the vaccine to make sure it’s safe and effective.
As of this week, we have optimistic news regarding phase-three efficacy results from biopharmaceutical company Pfizer – which has been collaborating with German company BioNTech.
“Early preliminary results suggests that their vaccine is 90% or so effective in preventing mild to moderate or severe disease.”
If the 90% efficacy data holds up after follow ups from participants in late November, Dr. Moss says he expects the FDA will rigorously review the data and approve the vaccine for distribution. That means health care workers and other high-priority groups would get the vaccine in December of this year, or early next year.
“Pfizer says that they could have close to 50 million doses by the end of this year," Dr. Moss said. "Now remember their vaccine – as a number of the vaccine candidates do – requires two doses per individual. So, 50 million doses allows you to vaccinate about 25 million people.”
Dr. Moss says the unprecedented investment in vaccine manufacturing will make it possible for the vaccine to be distributed so quickly. However, there are still quite a few logistical challenges since he says the Pfizer vaccine requires extreme cold temperatures as low as minus 117 degrees Fahrenheit.
“So we need warehouses to store the vaccine that have freezers that can maintain that cold, we need transportation systems – planes, trucks – that can deliver the vaccine and keep it cold. And then at the site of distribution, we need to be able to keep these vaccines cold.”
Therefore, he says it will likely take a lot longer for the general population to get the vaccine. He’s guessing not until the middle of 2021. Of course, the idea of saving lives with the help of a vaccine is very promising, but he says the greatest misconception is that we can go back to "normal" as soon as it’s distributed.
“That by no means is going to indicate that we can go back to our pre-pandemic life," Dr. Moss said. "We will not know whether these vaccines stop transmission and we’re going to still need to wear masks, to wash our hands and physically distance even when vaccines become available.”
Time and patience will be vital as we wait to see the long-term impacts of the vaccine in this pandemic.