The mRNA vaccines for Covid-19 developed by Pfizer and Moderna are terrific. They represent an amazing feat of modern biological science in the speed of development (well under a year) and efficacy (95% or so). Bravo!
When available to us, take either vaccine promptly! Safety data seem excellent. We are fortunate.
Our staff is prepared to administer the vaccine to our members when (and if) it is supplied to us. We purchased a larger vaccine refrigerator and -40C freezer just for this purpose.
But pandemic surging now
Realistically, the vaccines will not help the general population (including healthy adults over 65) until springtime. Yet the pandemic is exploding now, with 20 times the daily cases (close to 5000) in Massachusetts compared to late summer.
We have seen more cases in Orchard Health Care members in the past six weeks than the total since the beginning of the pandemic. Most came from family gatherings and a few from restaurant exposures. We had three new cases just today!
I am fearful of post-Christmas infections. We must continue to rigorously protect ourselves throughout what will clearly be a long and dangerous winter.
Initial vaccine distribution only to high-risk
The Pfizer vaccine, as everyone knows, has just been FDA approved. Initial doses have shipped and will be administered to front-line hospital and medical personnel, followed by nursing home residents and staff. Our office staff may be immunized late January or February. Other high-exposure groups may get vaccine in March.
The Moderna vaccine, expected to be approved this week by the FDA, will be distributed in same priority as the Pfizer vaccine.
General risk distribution not till Q2
Meaningful mRNA vaccine distribution to general populations most likely will begin around April. Older people and those with more medical risk (“preexisting conditions”) will be first.
Even if we have sufficient availability of vaccine, general vaccination certainly will stretch through the summer. We are not likely to have widespread population coverage that might constitute herd immunity until next fall even if vaccine “hesitancy” is overcome.
Limited vaccine availability a real possibility
Be aware that, after all the appropriate excitement about the release of the Covid-19 (SARS-CoV-2) vaccines, vaccine supplies may limit the speed and reach of general population coverage. There are three worries:
- Commitments: The US does not now have firm commitments for continuation of large-scale deliveries of Pfizer’s or Moderna’s mRNA vaccines beyond the initial supplies targeted to the highest risk populations in Q1. Other countries have large contracts with the same companies as well. So who gets how much and when is now under contention.
- Supply constraints: There may be world-wide raw materials shortages that limit the overall production of the mRNA vaccines. In essence, PCR tests use some of the same key chemicals as are needed to manufacture the vaccines. Test or prevent? We are hopeful, but it is unclear that the reagent supply issue has been resolved.
- Other vaccines slow or faltering: What about all the other vaccines under development? Where are they? In fact, other major vaccine candidates are much slower (Johnson & Johnson-BethIsrael, Novavax) or are faltering (AstraZeneca-Oxford) and are unlikely to be of help at least until Q2 next year.
What do you do this winter?
Your risk of Covid-19 will remain high throughout this winter. The pandemic has surged and will get worse, not better, in January and perhaps February as well. Most of you will not get a vaccine, likely an mRNA vaccine, until Q2 or Q3. Even then, lots of others will be unimmunized and precautions will still be needed in public and in crowded locations.
So the mantra is the same for this winter. Stick with immediate family. Follow Fauci:
- Wear your mask whenever with people other than immediate family.
- Wash your hands (and face) frequently
- Keep distant from others (if not immediate family) inside and outside
- Do not linger in closed spaces other than with immediate family or others in your circle of safety.
- Gatherings inside with friends and non-nuclear family are especially risky now, even with masks. Skip the Christmas and New Year’s parties.
Eventually we will all be able to get the vaccines and return to something of a normal life, but that most likely will be next summer or fall. We must get safely through the winter and spring.
Do not despair. But do be prudent.