Monday’s news that a second company has developed a vaccine for COVID that seems to be both effective and safe is welcome. But a look at the details behind it suggests Moderna’s announcement may be more important than the earlier one from Pfizer-BioNTech.
Both vaccines showed better than 90% effectiveness, which contradicted health experts’ earlier warnings that even a good vaccine might not provide much better protection than the flu shot. That’s about 50% for most people. It would still be enough to put a dent in the pandemic if enough people got the vaccine, but the better than expected results are very good news.
Those two vaccines are likely to be the first to receive approval in the U.S. There are indicators other vaccines, like those in use in Russia and China which have not gone through the same testing and approval process, may also be working.
Right now, the evidence is beginning to support the idea that a vaccine could provide both enough protection to be effective and be delivered in enough doses to cover the populations who need it. The latter is where the Moderna vaccine is particularly good news.
One of the major concerns about the vaccines under development is that many must be kept at very cold temperatures in order to remain viable. We’re not talking about your kitchen freezer. Think more along the lines of dry ice.
Keeping things that cold throughout a long supply chain is difficult. Major hospitals have the capability to do so, but how many doctors’ offices or drugstores do?
Moderna’s version of the vaccine can apparently remain viable for as much as 30 days after being thawed, provided it’s kept refrigerated. That’s a major advantage, because it simplifies the supply chain considerably. It may well prove to be a better option for areas that don’t have the infrastructure to provide the kind of cold other vaccines need.
There are additional vaccines still in the testing phase, including four that are involved in major studies in the U.S.
Monday’s news arrived as the nation hit 11 million cases of COVID reported since the pandemic began. Texas and California have each passed the 1 million mark.
States are also reimposing lockdowns to control a nightmarish surge in numbers nationwide. Michigan has shut down in-person classes for high schools and colleges, closed indoor dining and called a halt to organized sports. That last step includes the state’s high school football playoffs.
Washington’s governor took similar steps, limiting store occupancies and restricting restaurants and bars to outdoor or to-go dining.
North Dakota, facing the nation’s worst outbreak on a per capita basis, now has a statewide mask mandate and new business restrictions.
Locally, hospitals have warned they are running out of space to treat COVID patients. They are canceling elective procedures and may well have to send newly arriving patients to other facilities.
There’s an old saying that it’s always darkest before dawn. That seems appropriate here. The numbers with the pandemic are as bleak as anything we’ve seen since March. We’re all tired. The will to resist what seems at times to be an inexorable pandemic is flagging.
It’s tempting to give up.
But at the same time we now have two vaccines that have passed their biggest tests yet with results that even the most optimistic experts didn’t expect. We have others that could well have similar announcements in the days to come. And we have the capacity to begin production of millions of doses at a speed never before seen in medical history.
That’s the dawn, folks. That’s reason for hope. Those are reasons to not give up.
As a vaccine is distributed, the number of cases will begin to fall. It will take time. Something resembling life before the pandemic won’t arrive immediately. It probably won’t be here next spring. Summer? It’s possible.
Today we are closer than ever. We have genuine reasons to be optimistic. We have every reason not to give up.