What we know about the development and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine


Emily Class, Staff Writer

As we’re nearing the end of a trying year, the question of whether or not the U.S. will have its vaccine by the end of 2020 remains unanswered.  With over 200,000 American dead from the coronavirus and the number of cases continuing to grow, many are looking to the government for answers.  Americans feel uncertain about the future and are concerned about when the pandemic will end. 

Our President has claimed a vaccine will be ready by election day, but plenty of citizens are concerned that it is a political stunt.  The Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told CNN that we might expect it by as early as Nov. or Dec. this year.  Two pharmaceutical companies, Pfizer and Moderna, say they could have vaccinations ready as soon as Oct.  Both of their vaccines would require two doses to be effective.

“By the time you get enough people vaccinated so that you can feel you’ve had an impact enough on the outbreak so that you can start thinking about maybe getting a little bit more towards normality, that very likely, as I and others have said, will be maybe the third quarter or so of 2021. Maybe even into the fourth quarter,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci. 

However, even if a vaccine is released earlier, our lives probably will not go fully back to normal until late 2021.  A vaccine for COVID-19 will be very different from any vaccine we have received before.  For starters, this type of vaccine has never before been approved for use on people.  According to the CDC the typical vaccines “…contain the same germs that cause disease. (For example, measles vaccine contains measles virus, and Hib vaccine contains Hib bacteria.) But they have been either killed or weakened to the point that they don’t make you sick. Some vaccines contain only a part of the disease germ.”

According to the New York Times, this new kind would contain messenger R.N.A. which are genetic molecules that give instructions to the muscle cells on how to build a protein found on the surface of coronavirus.  These proteins would “stimulate the immune system,” in turn allowing for “long-lasting protection from the virus.”  However, this form of the vaccine is still in its early stages of development; even with extensive testing, more has to be done to ensure its safety and effectiveness. 

So who will be the first to get it?  The Center for Disease Control says that healthcare workers and essential workers would receive priority, along with people who live and work in long-term care facilities.  These groups include 17 to 20 million healthcare workers, 60 to 80 million essential workers, and around 53 million people over 65.

Many are wondering what the side effects of the vaccine will be.  Recently, Johnson & Johnson had almost all of their 800 vaccine trial participants experience a strong immune response.  The trial contained two age groups, 18-55 years old and 65 years old and up.  Ninety-nine percent of the 18-55 group of participants developed antibodies within 29 days of being vaccinated.  Side effects of the vaccine included fever, headache, fatigue, body aches, and injection-site pain, but these symptoms were mild and resolved within a few days. 

“I had a high degree of confidence it would work, and I wanted to contribute to the solution,” said Luke Hutchinson, a member of the Moderna vaccine trial.

After receiving his second dose of the vaccine, Hutchinson had woken up in the middle of the night with such intense chills that he cracked a tooth.  On top of that, he experienced a very intense headache, shortness of breath, high fever, and intense injection site pain.  He said it felt like a “goose egg” was on his shoulder.

“People are going to have to toughen up.  The first dose is no big deal.  And then the second dose will put you down for the day for sure.  You will need to take a day off after the second dose,” said another candidate to ABC about the vaccine.

Many Americans are concerned that the vaccine is being rushed in order to aid President Trump’s re-election. 

“I think there will be a vaccine around this time next year based on the results of the election.  Making a vaccine takes time and needs to be a slow process to ensure it is safe.  While it seems like it is being rushed right now, hopefully, the result of the election will allow the vaccine to be processed with time and stricter social distancing policies enforced,” said junior Kayla Caplin.

This poses a question of the effectiveness of the vaccine if the President is interfering in its development.  The Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, Stephen Hahn, has promised the public that there will be no political interference in the vaccine’s approval process.  The FDA wants “safety data” from manufacturers’ clinical trials from patients two months after receiving the vaccination, which wouldn’t be available until after election day. 

After we have a vaccine, a new question is raised, whether or not the government should allow free access to the vaccine even for those who do not have health insurance.  The average vaccine costs between $30 and $100 without insurance, and some cannot afford to pay that.  These are all crucial points to think about, and Americans should put their hopes of a miracle vaccine into perspective.  While several vaccines are in phase three trials, safety protocols  are fully established and will not be approved for market until all appropriate guidelines have been met.