Coronavirus

A COVID-19 Vaccine: What You Need to Know

September 9, 2020

A COVID-19 Vaccine: What You Need to Know

Since mid-March of this year, it is not an exaggeration to say that life has been turned upside down by something that is as old as time itself and microscopic in size.  The newly discovered coronavirus (SARS-Cov-2 or HCoV-19) was first identified in the Wuhan, Hubei province in China, in December 2019, following cases of patients who developed pneumonia of unknown origin.

Is Coronavirus New?

Coronaviruses themselves are not new and have been known to cause infection in the nose, sinuses and upper throat.  Many infections that we refer to as the “common cold” are in fact caused by types of coronaviruses and are not dangerous for most people.  However, SARS-Cov-2 has proven to be particularly troublesome causing severe illness and death.

Concerns about the Coronavirus

There are several factors which serve to make this new coronavirus exceptionally concerning.  First of all, since it is new, scientists and experts don’t have a complete understanding of it.  Also it has proven to be very easily spread by person to person contact, and, finally, its ability to cause sickness is relatively unpredictable.  In the eight plus months since the virus has been identified there have been some patterns develop that serve to predict risk.  Those who seem to be at a higher risk for becoming ill are:

  • Elderly (> 60 years old), with those over 85 being at most risk
  • Presence of underlying medical conditions including cancer, chronic kidney disease, COPD, solid organ transplant patients, obesity, serious heart conditions, type 2 diabetes mellitus, sickle cell disease.

Social distancing, the use of face coverings, increased testing and quarantining have helped to mitigate some spread of the virus, but cases, illness and deaths continue to be problematic.

The Need for a Vaccine

History has proven that the best way to combat viruses, especially those with the potential to spread rapidly and cause significant illness, is to develop a vaccine.  Simply put, vaccines use various methods to mimic the virus that they protect against, which allows the body’s natural immune system to develop defenses specific to that virus.  The good news is that in the United States, there are multiple entities working tirelessly on a vaccine for COVID-19 following the president’s Operation Warp Speed initiative.  The government has thus far invested more than $10 billion to support this program.  Several different vaccine production technologies have been proposed and studied in effort to hone in on the most effective and safest option.

COVID-19 Vaccine Status

As of the current time, 14 initial vaccine candidates have been narrowed down to eight different vaccines based on what early studies have shown in terms of effectiveness.  Three of these finalists have entered into Phase 3 human efficacy trials which have already been promising.  Phase 3 trials are large scale deployments in humans designed to assess efficacy and safety of a product and are typically the last step prior to FDA approval.

All vaccines in development will require two doses; an initial dose followed by a booster dose given 21 to 28 days following the first dose.  There is a likelihood that the vaccine will require special refrigerated or frozen storage which may limit possibilities for outlets and distribution.

What Will Distribution Look Like?

Once a vaccine is officially approved, the CDC is planning a three phase roll-out based on the availability of doses:

  • Phase 1 – extremely limited availability
  • Phase 2 – expanded availability (could be up to 3 to 4 months after initial limited supplies)
  • Phase 3 – routine availability

Phase 1 availability would be limited to those groups who would be considered at highest risk for contracting and spreading the virus including:

  • healthcare workers
  • residents of long term care facilities
  • first responders
  • other high risk groups

It is estimated that November 1st, 2020 would be the earliest possible availability for Phase 1 vaccine availability with initial immunizations occurring in November and December (this is an estimate and subject to change). Phase 1 immunizations will likely be controlled at the federal and/or state levels with more local control in Phases 2 and 3. There are core groups that have been formed at the state level and locally who are working on strategies for mass distribution of the vaccine when it becomes widely available.

For more questions around COVID-19, visit our resource area for Coronavirus.

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