- There are more than 30 COVID-19 vaccines currently in clinical evaluations across the globe, per the World Health Organization.
- But the Director of the U.S. CDC told government officials that the vaccine won't be readily available for all Americans until Fall 2021.
- The CEO of Pfizer previously said if it receives FDA approval this year, it is ready to distribute "hundreds of thousands of doses."
- Trials will establish how effective a vaccine is, whether it'll stop you from getting sick again, and how many shots you'll need for best results.
- But another top official at the world's largest vaccine producer warns that pharmaceutical companies aren't increasing production fast enough, and vaccines won't reach everyone around the world until 2024.
After many months of quarantines, social distancing, and disrupted routines, it's the one question that almost everyone has on their minds: When will a new coronavirus vaccine be ready? The answer, just like many other aspects of COVID-19 thus far, isn't clear. But creating an effective vaccine is only half the battle, say leading health experts who work with international data and set policies here in the United States, and usually the process takes up to 15 years. It's clear that distributors will also have to rush out any new vaccine to all 50 states when the time comes. Plus, there's another big follow-up question to consider: Will everyone actually sign up for a vaccine when it's ready?
A team of journalists at the New York Times are keeping tabs on every single COVID-19 vaccine trial occurring across the globe; per their data, more than 100 vaccines are in development, with nearly 10 of them already in human trials. Some vaccines have been rushed approved without full-scale trials by officials in China and Russia, according to the Times, and Moderna, Pfizer, and AstraZeneca have kicked off phase-3 trials here in the United States after government officials approved Operation Warp Speed in May.
But Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told government officials in a Senate Appropriations hearing this week that he believes vaccines won't be readily available for all Americans until the fall of 2021. "If you’re asking me when is it going to be generally available to the American public, so we can begin to take advantage of vaccine to get back to our regular life, I think we’re probably looking at third, late second quarter, third quarter 2021." He later clarified that he believed the first vaccines that may be available in November or December will go to those on the frontlines, and other follow-up batches to "those at greatest risk for death," before it's made available to the public.
Earlier in September, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla told international press that the company expects to present key findings from phase-3 trials to the Food and Drug Administration by the end of October. According to CNBC, Bourla told journalists on CBS' Face the Nation that Pfizer is ready to begin distributing "hundreds of thousands of doses" to Americans shortly thereafter, if the vaccine receives clearance. Actually getting those vaccines into the hands of medical professionals across the country might be easier said than done, though.
Adar Poonwalla, the CEO of the Serum Institute of India, which the Financial Times reports is one of the world's largest vaccine producers, says that pharmaceutical supply chains aren't ramping up fast enough to meet global demand for a new vaccine. "It's going to take four to five years until everyone gets the vaccine on this planet," he said, estimating that two doses of a vaccine for each person won't be actually administered until 2024.
If you're interested in keeping tabs on each individual trial as it progresses, officials at the World Health Organization are updating a landscape document about ongoing vaccine candidates on a current basis. View their progress tracker.
When will Americans first see a vaccine, then? Because of supply chains and pending FDA approval, William Schaffner, M.D., the medical director for the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, tells Good Housekeeping he doesn't think it'll arrive by the holidays. "It could well be that in late fall, some data may become available — but for the most part, [the medical community] anticipates that it won't be rolled out until the early part of next year."
Will the vaccine allow us to stop social distancing?
It all depends on whether or not the vaccine can help us achieve something that scientists refer to as herd immunity. "The herd immunity is achieved in populations through both natural methods and built resistance — as in someone recovers from the infection — as well as artificially induced immunity, as in resistance with the help of a vaccine," explains Bojana Berić-Stojšić, MD, PhD, CHES, an ambassador for the United Nations' Society for Public Health Education and director of the master of public health program at Fairleigh Dickinson University. "There has to be 95% of the population that's resistant (either naturally or artificially) to a virus for herd immunity to occur."
Theoretically, herd immunity could naturally become quite high (upwards of 60% of the population) before the vaccine arrives — thus reducing the likelihood of transmission in public — but experts are trying desperately to avoid this scenario. "We certainly don't want to come to that, because that would require a colossal number of deaths and hospitalizations that would have occurred by the time we achieve that… Until we have a viable vaccine, we have to continue social distancing, wearing masks, and all of the other methods we know now," Dr. Schaffner explains.
After a vaccine is made available to the American public, we may finally start to see our routines return to pre-COVID schedules, and for social distancing guidance to be lifted, Dr. Berić-Stojšić adds. "If there was a safe and effective vaccine available, theoretically, that would be the best solution to lift social and business restrictions," she says. "[But] only if at least 80% of the population would be immunized, with another 15% having recovered from COVID-19 or already being naturally resistant."
But therein lies another question: Will most or all Americans sign up for the vaccine? A poll conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that only 50% of adults who were polled indicated they would get a shot when the time came. "It's not a foregone conclusion that we'll be able to reach out and vaccinate everyone," Dr. Schaffner says. "As much as the vaccine is anticipated by many, others will have to be persuaded to participate… Some people are going to wait for a whole lot of others to get vaccinated to make sure it's safe."
Who would get a COVID-19 vaccine?
When a vaccine is developed, supply will be limited at first — and the government will have to decide who gets it first. According to Dr. Schaffner, CDC officials are working on a roll-out plan for the COVID-19 vaccine at the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices; this group established who was first in line for a swine-flu vaccine back in 2009, for example. "That committee is in the middle of a very elaborate discussion, and they're reaching out to all kinds of professional organizations to get some sort of idea about a prioritization scheme."
Normally, a vaccine isn't actually rolled out geographically; it'll be done by the characteristics of a community, Dr. Schaffner says. "Some [characteristics] are illness rates, but some might be race, because we know that people of color and lower socio-economic standing are more apt to have serious disease," he explains, adding that age and occupations may also come into play. "Healthcare workers ought to be first in line, those who are caring for the very sick, because we need them to be healthy."
While the prioritization scheme isn't established just yet, Dr. Schaffner says there will be a protocol scheme in place, but it may change as the pandemic unfolds. "Sometimes, despite planning, you have vaccine left in the refrigerator because you couldn't get people who were eligible to come in… You have to have some flexibility, because obviously it can't be implemented in the same way everywhere around the country simultaneously."
How will the coronavirus vaccine work?
At first, there were many comparisons made between the flu and COVID-19 — so naturally, some people are wondering if a COVID vaccine might function like a flu shot. "There's no way to answer this definitely at this time, because there's no indication what type of vaccine is both safe and effective in humans," Dr. Berić-Stojšić says. "I think, even if the virus remains unchanged, there will be multiple vaccines available, but not before the fall of 2021."
Clinical trials will determine whether or not we'll need only one vaccine, or if we'll need to have a new shot each year during what will be a doubly tough flu season. Plus, it could be that a vaccine isn't totally preventative — just like a flu shot — meaning you could still come down with COVID-19 despite a shot. "Whatever the level of protection, how long will it last? Will it last five years, or will everyone have to roll up both sleeves, get a flu shot on one side, and COVID on the other?" Dr. Schaffner muses. "I'm afraid the answer to those questions is, well, we won't know until we know."
As more information about the coronavirus pandemic develops, some of the information in this story may have changed since it was last updated. For the most up-to-date information on COVID-19, please visit the online resources provided by the CDC, WHO, and your local public health department. You can work to better protect yourself from COVID-19 by washing your hands, avoiding contact with sick individuals, and sanitizing your home, among other actions.
You Might Also Like