Vaccine Successes Belie Long Road Ahead
On Monday, 14 December 2020, Sandra Lindsay sat in a blue treatment chair at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New York City as a nurse injected her with a drug developed by Pfizer and BioNTech SE, becoming the first person in the United States to receive a U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved COVID-19 vaccine. The scene was repeated thousands of times across the country as the official rollout of the vaccine to healthcare workers first in line.
“It didn’t feel any different from taking any other vaccine,” Lindsay said. “I feel hopeful today, relieved. I feel like healing is coming. I hope this marks the beginning of the end of a very painful time in our history. I want to instill public confidence that the vaccine is safe.” Reuters reports that Lindsay has been treating some of the sickest COVID-19 patients at the facility for months.
Sandra Lindsay, a nurse at a Queens hospital, was the first person in the U.S. to be vaccinated for the coronavirus. She wanted to “inspire people who look like me.” https://t.co/HlzO6H9fYk— The New York Times (@nytimes) December 15, 2020
Canada also rolled out its vaccine program yesterday, targeting nursing home residents and staff. The two countries join a few other nations, including the United Kingdom, which launched its vaccination effort last week to similar fanfare.
The European Union’s European Medicines Agency has not approved the Pfizer-BioNTech SE vaccine yet, so the EU’s 27 nations, who have not begun widespread vaccinations, are growing impatient. Germany's health minister said approval should come before Christmas and vaccinations will start before the end of the year.
“It cannot be that a vaccine that has been developed in Germany is only approved and vaccinated (here) in January,” said Christine Aschenberg-Dugnus, a federal lawmaker with the pro-business Free Democrats, in a report from the AP. The German Hospital Association chimed in Tuesday, demanding that the EU shorten its lengthy approval process and issue emergency authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
China, the origin of the pandemic, has effectively controlled the spread of COVID-19 within its borders, making testing of its most prominent vaccine candidate, developed by Sinopharm, difficult. The drug has been tested in the Untied Arab Emirates (UAE), Argentina, Peru, and Morocco, among other countries. Both China and the UAE have approved the vaccine or emergency use, and it is estimated that approximately 1 million Sinopharm vaccinations have been administered around the world.
In addition, the vaccine developed by Moderna appears to be about one week behind the Pfizer-BioNTech SE drug in the U.S. approval process. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) confirmed the findings that the Moderna vaccine was 94 percent effective in its clinical trials. The same committee of experts that gave approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech SE vaccine last week will meet Thursday this week to discuss and vote on the Moderna vaccine. The FDA is poised to authorize its use on Friday, with a likely rollout the following Monday. Canada also appears close to approving the Moderna drug.
The speed with which these vaccines have been developed is an incredible success story. In a report in The Washington Post on the technology gamble behind the leading vaccine candidates, it notes that “vaccine development typically takes years, even decades. The progress of the last 11 months shifts the paradigm for what’s possible, creating a new model for vaccine development and a toolset for a world that will have to fight more never-before-seen viruses in years to come.”
How the leading coronavirus vaccines made it to the finish line https://t.co/3zYchkM4fE— carolyn johnson (@Carolynyjohnson) December 6, 2020
Despite the good news, health experts warn it will be well into 2021 before vaccinations have much impact on the still-raging pandemic. The hard-hit United States is regularly seeing more than 200,000 new confirmed infections each day, with the death toll climbing to and surpassing 2,000 deaths per day. Worldwide, there have been more than 70 million confirmed cases and 1.6 million deaths.
The outlook for impoverished and developing countries is even more bleak. The effort established to ensure the whole world has access to the still-developing vaccines, called COVAX, is faltering and short on cash.
“It’s simple math,” said Arnaud Bernaert, head of global health at the World Economic Forum. Of the approximately 12 billion doses the pharmaceutical industry is expected to produce next year, about 9 billion shots have already been reserved by rich countries. “COVAX has not secured enough doses, and the way the situation may unfold is they will probably only get these doses fairly late.” One expert warns that the effort to vaccinate the world’s population may stretch to 2024.
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