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Vaccine Science Is Working, but Society Needs to Step Up

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14.11.2020

In about 25 days, if all goes according to schedule, the FDA’s vaccine advisory committee will recommend expanding the public use of the first vaccine against the coronavirus.

Preliminarily results from clinical trials suggest that the vaccine, a product of a collaboration between Pfizer and BioNTech, might be 90 percent effective at preventing COVID-19 symptoms—a level that would place the new discovery among the world’s most reliable vaccines. More information and a thorough, independent review are still needed, but the trial for this vaccine enrolled a large, ethnically and racially diverse pool of subjects and has so far turned up no serious safety concerns. If the Food and Drug Administration authorizes expanded use of the vaccine in December, it would occur 11 months after the coronavirus was first identified—three years faster than any other vaccine has ever been developed.

In short, researchers appear to have delivered remarkably well. But getting safe doses into the arms of the vulnerable and disadvantaged people who stand to benefit most from that innovation depends on reversing a trend that has come to define this pandemic—to quote Isaac Asimov, “that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.” The fruits of science can help defeat this pandemic only if society is working well enough to distribute them quickly and equitably. But the U.S. experience with COVID-19 so far—and with other diseases before it—suggests a variety of political, economic, and practical obstacles that Americans must work urgently to surmount.

Thomas R. Frieden: COVID-19 is out of control. What can we do?

U.S. hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 are surging, and projections indicate a dark winter, in which an additional 160,000 Americans will lose their lives to the virus before February. A vaccine could still help shift that trajectory, but only if policy makers apply the hard lessons from past U.S. failures in distributing vaccines to adults. They will need to do so amid a contentious presidential transition and with the same decentralized and resource-starved U.S. state, local, and tribal public-health systems that have administered H1N1 and seasonal-flu vaccines.

According to a recent analysis, three out of every four Americans would need to receive a vaccine that prevents at least 80 percent of infections for that vaccine to extinguish this coronavirus pandemic on its own. In the past decade, the United States has never managed to vaccinate more than half of adults for seasonal influenza in any........

© The Atlantic


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