I find myself largely in agreement with the editors of the Washington Post, unsurprising since they’re now saying much what I’ve been saying all along:
VACCINE OPTIMISM is understandable in these days of anxiety about the virus. Almost every day, there are upbeat reports about a vaccine starting a new phase of clinical trials, and the worldwide research effort spans technologies old and new. Surely a safe and effective vaccine must arrive before too long — as promised, in “warp speed,” such as later this year or early next?
A dose of realism would be prudent. Vaccines are truly remarkable medicine and have proved effective in stopping diseases such as measles and polio. But they are not simple to discover, manufacture or distribute. Many research efforts fail. The first clinical trial for an HIV vaccine was in 1987, and there still isn’t one, despite much hard work. As Carolyn Y. Johnson reported in The Post on Monday, once a vaccine is found to be safe and effective, the process will be at the beginning, not the end. Vaccines must be manufactured to exacting standards. Distributing the vaccine fairly to people in the United States and around the world will strain health networks, the supply chain, public trust and global cooperation. This may take months or, quite likely, years.
Another reason for caution is that the vaccine timeline depends on human physiology. It may take a while to build up the antibodies to fight the novel coronavirus. A second inoculation may be required. Immunity could be short-lived or partial. Also, it is possible that the first vaccines to win approval may not be perfect, and not work all the time on everyone.
That last is one area of disagreement. I think that a vaccine whose benefits are extremely short-lived or, worse, unpredictable in its prophylactic effect would actually be worse than no vaccine at all.
Let’s suppose it is summer of 2022, and there is still no vaccine. What would we wish we had done today? Let’s do it.
Okay, what would that be? And should we be preparing for a vaccine at all? My speculation is that of materials and personnel personnel will be the graver bottleneck. Maybe I’m overestimating that since nowadays every Walgreens is offering flu vaccinations.
I think we should be preparing for the eventuality that a practical vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 is never developed. What would we be doing in that case? I don’t know but I know what we should not be doing. We should not be threatening to close down businesses due to a rising test positivity rate as long as the risk of a system failure in the health care system is nominal as is the case in Illinois.