COVID-19 Vaccine: Where We Stand
The first transmission of COVID-19 in the U.S., pictured through an electron microscope. (CDC/Unsplash)
After suffering through the COVID-19 pandemic for almost a year, the U.S. is eager to develop a vaccine. Since December of last year, 42.5 million people have contracted the virus, and 1.5 million people have died as a result of it. The nation is hoping for a vaccine to come out as soon as possible.
Healthcare officials have been estimating times for when the coronavirus vaccine can come out. Earlier this month, World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated, “We will need vaccines and there is hope that by the end of this year we may have a vaccine. There is hope.” Ghebreyesus, like other health officials, estimates that there will be a vaccine ready by the end of this year. He also spoke to world leaders, ensuring that the vaccine will be equally distributed once it’s available.
More than 100 potential COVID-19 vaccines are currently being produced, with a number of them in the human trial process. Through the ACT Accelerator, WHO is working in partnership with scientists, business, and global health organizations to speed up the pandemic response. COVAX (led by WHO, GAVI and CEPI) will promote the equal access and distribution of vaccines to protect people in all countries once a safe and efficient vaccine is found. People who are most at risk will be given priority.
In the United States, Operation Warp Speed has been working on a vaccine since the virus started. Their goal is to distribute 300 million doses by January 2021. Operation Warp Speed is a collaboration between members of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Defense to help create, manufacture, and distribute millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses as quickly as possible, while ensuring the vaccines are safe and effective. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are several vaccines for COVID-19 under production. Four vaccines have started large-scale (phase 3) clinical trials in the United States as of October 13, 2020.
President Donald Trump on the Vaccine
President Donald Trump has been continuously making promises of a vaccine that will soon be ready to “cure” the coronavirus.
In the most recent presidential debate that took place on October 22, 2020, President Trump praised his administration’s efforts, claiming that they handled the pandemic very well. He even made it clear that we need to “open up” the country: “We can’t close up our nation or you’re not going to have a nation.” Trump believes that further lockdown will cause more damage to the economy of the country. Despite the president’s claim that the virus is “going away”, it’s very clear that coronavirus cases have barely staggered. The president said that until a vaccine is available, the nation must learn to live with the virus. His opponent in the election, Former Vice President Joe Biden, countered that Trump failed to deal with COVID-19: “He said we’re learning to live with it? People are learning to die with it.” Throughout the debate, Trump blamed China for the virus and promised that a vaccine will be coming out in weeks ― or at least, by the end of 2020.
Many populated cities, such as New York City, have had to shut down to prevent the spread of the virus. President Trump has expressed a desire for such restrictions to end. (Brian McGowan/Unsplash)
Emergency Use Authorization
COVID-19 vaccines could be used, at least initially, under the U.S. Emergency Use Authorization (EUA), which is granted by the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA). An EUA could use preliminary data from currently occurring vaccine efficacy trials to shave off the typical approval process for several months. Several members of FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) worried that an EUA could add to the growing hesitation of the public regarding COVID-19 vaccines by fueling the impression that its high standards are undermined by the FDA.
Sheldon Toubman, a consumer representative committee attorney, urged the FDA not to issue an EUA for the COVID-19 vaccine, claiming that the agency should adhere to the standard approval process. “There’s only one chance to do this right," Toubman said. “And if we do it wrong, then we’re done for; it’ll be years. Because there’s already a serious problem with a lack of trust, and the [lack of] trust will become so severe at that point, we won’t be able to dig out of it.”
The committee also addressed the risk that an early vaccine authorization could conflict with many of the COVID-19 vaccine efficacy studies currently underway, derailing efforts to obtain the most robust and persuasive data on safety and effectiveness. And some representatives were worried that the new FDA guidelines for vaccine companies that may be pursuing an EUA do not have sufficiently strict safety requirements.
Paying for the Vaccine
The federal government is committed to offering COVID-19 vaccines that are free or of low-cost. Vaccine doses bought with U.S. taxpayer dollars would be given at no expense to the American people. Vaccination providers, however, may be able to charge an administrative fee for supplying anyone with the injection. This fee would be paid by both public and private insurance providers, so there is no cost to the individual being vaccinated. Furthermore, people without health insurance will be able to get vaccines for COVID-19 at no cost.
As of today, there is no vaccine for COVID-19, and until an approved and safe vaccine comes out, the nation waits.