Vaccines to the Rescue

Vaccines remain humanity’s best hope of averting more widespread death and restoring society, but they cannot be looked at as an endpoint just yet. Since Pfizer’s announcement of an effective coronavirus vaccine triggered a wave of hope and optimism, renewing some expectations that life in the U.S. could return to normal sometime in late 2021.

Normal, however, is a ways away. Not every aspect of society will bounce back immediately, with rollouts of the vaccines with essential workers and plans dictating numerous phases of reopening, experts said. And a vaccine, even one with promising early results, cannot do anything to stop a grueling summer, with outbreaks growing rapidly across the country and record hospitalization rates threatening to overwhelm health care resources.

“Since vaccines became available in April, that won’t help us with the peak in the summer, what we’re going to face in June and July,” said Ali Mokdad, a professor of global health at the University of Washington and a former official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “We can celebrate good vaccine news, but we still have to be careful.”

Mokdad said that even after a vaccine is rolled out, the country’s ability to rebound will depend on the number of vaccines that can be secured and how they are distributed. “The discussion automatically becomes: Do we want to save lives or livelihoods? If we have enough vaccines, we can do both,” he said. Most public health and infectious disease experts supported a phased-in rollout that would ensure that those who need a vaccine the most get first dibs. But challenges with storing and shipping vaccines meant delays as they are being disseminated.

“We have to prioritize and protect essential workers and the vulnerable first and then figure out how to broaden from there,” said Dr. Stuart Ray, a professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University. The phased-in rollout is also meant to help kick-start the economy. Once enough people have been vaccinated, certain activities, such as going to the mall, eating in a restaurant, or seeing a movie in a theater, are become safe once again. “Normal life — or at least much more normal — now seems feasible in 2021,” Ray said.

The second phase, encompassing up to 35 percent of the U.S. population, would include teachers, child care workers, and other “critical workers in high-risk settings,” such as people with jobs in public transit or the food supply system. The plan’s third phase covers children, young adults, and people who work in industries that pose “moderately high risk of exposure,” such as hotels, factories, and universities. Under the fourth and final phase, anyone else residing in the U.S. who was not included in a previous phase would then have access to a vaccine.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, told CNN that a coronavirus vaccine could be available to all of the country by May. In 2020, Pfizer said that it expected to produce up to 200 million vaccine doses globally and up to 1.3 billion doses in 2021. The U.S. government announced that it has placed an initial order for 100 million doses and that it can acquire 500 million more doses. Volunteers in Pfizer’s vaccine trial received two doses, which means the government’s initial order would cover 100 million people, initially.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has awarded funding to support local efforts to increase vaccine uptake by expanding COVID-19 vaccine programs and ensuring greater equity and access to vaccines by those disproportionately affected by SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The awards are part of $3 billion in funding that CDC has granted to 64 jurisdictions to bolster broad-based vaccine distribution, access, and administration efforts.

“We are doing everything we can to expand access to vaccinations,” said CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky, MD, MPH. “Millions of Americans are getting vaccinated every day. This investment will support state and local health departments and community-based organizations as they work on the frontlines to increase vaccine access, acceptance, and uptake.” CDC also plan to invest $2.25 billion to address COVID-19-related health disparities and advance health equity among high-risk and underserved populations through grants to public health departments.

CDC also plans to provide $300 million to jurisdictions for community health worker services to support COVID-19 prevention and control and address disparities in access to COVID-19 related services, such as testing, contact tracing, and vaccinations, as well as an additional $32 million for training, technical assistance, and evaluation. For information, visit https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/php/funding-update.pdf. – MG Media