Nursing & Healthcare News

COVID-19 Vaccines

Will a vaccine be the answer?

Researcher in a lab is using a syringe to fill a beaker on a counter. She is wearing a white lab coat and gloves

Judging by current research progress, there will likely be many COVID-19 vaccines in the foreseeable future. However, they might not be the pandemic-ending answer we’re all waiting for.

Vaccine Prognosis

As public officials argue about reopening businesses and schools and a vocal minority of Americans resist source control measures like masking, many people are hoping a COVID-19 vaccine will provide the key to finally controlling the pandemic.

According to the World Health Organization, there are currently more than 150 COVID-19 vaccine candidates in development around the world, of which almost two dozen are in or will shortly begin clinical trials.

That’s great news, but the prognosis for a COVID-19 vaccine includes many caveats nurses should understand:

Not this year.

Although development is proceeding at a lightning pace, completing clinical trials, obtaining even emergency regulatory approval, and manufacturing and distributing any vaccine will take months. Don’t expect a vaccine to be available (outside of clinical trials) before next spring at the earliest.

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Several different vaccines.

Many of the vaccine candidates currently in development use very different strategies to help the immune system fight the novel coronavirus. With such urgent demand, we might see several different vaccines next year, forcing providers and patients to decide which to choose — and which they can afford.

The cost will be steep.

As Elizabeth Rosenthal warned in a recent Kaiser Health News article, pharmaceutical companies can — and very well may — charge hefty prices for any workable COVID-19 vaccine. Although many of the development efforts are benefitting from big infusions of taxpayer money, there’s little to stop drug manufacturers from pricing their vaccines as high as the market will bear. Given the damage the pandemic is doing to the economy, that price could be high indeed.

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Likely not 100 percent effective.

Even with highly conserved viruses, successful inoculation may take several doses or require periodic booster shots; with other diseases, like influenza, vaccine effectiveness is a coin flip. As with the flu shot, a COVID-19 vaccine that’s only 50 percent effective would still have enormous public health benefits if most people were vaccinated. However, it wouldn’t necessarily stop people from getting sick, especially if other precautions like physical distancing and proper hand hygiene are abandoned.

“Not everyone will get it.”

When a vaccine finally becomes commercially available, some people may not be able to afford it, while others are likely to refuse. Antivaxxers have already signaled their opposition to any COVID-19 vaccine, while some conspiracy theorists are claiming a vaccine would only be a pretense for injecting hidden tracking chips. If not everyone is vaccinated — which is likely — the net benefits of vaccination will be reduced, especially if any of the available vaccines are less than 100 percent effective.

Given the spike in infections, especially here in California, any workable COVID-19 vaccine would be a lot better than nothing. Sadly, those counting on a vaccine to allow a safe return to classroom instruction and mass gatherings this fall may need to think again.

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