Q: I am so over this pandemic. Will it ever end?
A: We are all frustrated and tired of the impact that COVID-19 has had on our daily lives. However, it's important to remember that we can't let down our guard. Yes, this pandemic will end, and there is good news coming in daily.
The ultimate answer to controlling this virus will be a vaccine. There are multiple vaccines in development, and several are approaching likely approval for use. Two of the vaccines, one by the company Pfizer, along with its German partner BioNTech, and the other by Moderna, are reported to be approximately 95% effective. Since no vaccine is 100% perfect, this is incredibly good news.
They also appear to be very safe. They are in the final stages of having their clinical trial data reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration to determine if they can be approved for emergency use authorization (EUA). The FDA, to its credit, is taking a very careful approach to be sure that if and when the vaccines are approved, they can assure the public that they are safe and effective.
These two vaccines work by a new method. They do not contain the coronavirus itself, so you can't catch the disease from the vaccine. They contain a small piece of genetic material called messenger RNA (mRNA), which will produce a single harmless protein that is unique to the virus. This stimulates an immune response in the person vaccinated so that if they are exposed to the virus, their body already will be primed to respond quickly and effectively to prevent infection and disease.
These vaccines have some logistical hurdles, such as a requirement that they be stored at very cold temperatures, but those hurdles are being addressed. The Hamilton County Health Department is working closely with the state and federal government so that, when the vaccine is ready, we'll be ready. Most of the vaccines in production will require a second dose (of the same vaccine) to be given either 21 or 28 days after the first dose.
There are more vaccines in the works that use other methods to stimulate the immune response. They will most likely be available soon also. They are going through the same rigorous testing process required by the FDA.
Once these vaccines are ready, they will initially be prioritized based on individuals' risk for exposure to COVID-19 (such as frontline health-care workers) and those with risk factors for severe disease. It is hoped that as more vaccines come along and supplies increase, it will become available to everyone by early to middle of next year. It is very important that everyone give serious thought to getting this vaccine.
It has been said that "Vaccines don't help people; vaccinations do." In other words, the best vaccine in the world doesn't do any good if it doesn't get into your arm. If you have further questions or concerns, talk with your health-care provider or call the Health Department hotline at 423-209-8383. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is always an excellent resource, and this is a good place to start: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/about-vaccines/vaccine-myths.html.
So, with new vaccines very close at hand, there is much reason for hope for the future. I have likened this to a marathon. We are winning, we can begin to see the finish line ahead of us, but we can't stop now and declare victory. We have to continue to maintain our known, effective public health measures such as mask wearing, social distancing and good hygiene so we can control this virus and stay healthy until the vaccines are available. Hang in there. Together we can beat this.
Paul Hendricks, M.D., is the Hamilton County Health Department health officer and a member of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society.