Here’s what the COVID-19 vaccine will and won’t do

When the CDC alerted public health officials to prepare to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine to all 50 states by the end of October, vaccinologists offered a throat-clearing about what this does and doesn’t mean.

As of the time of this writing, there are four vaccine candidates extremely close to receiving approval from the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (AstraZeneca, Pfizer jointly with Biotech, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson).

Broadly speaking, a successful vaccine appears to mean time for clinicians and health systems to play catch-up. A successful vaccine does not seem to mean normalcy, at least not in the way we’re all hoping.

At a public meeting presented last Thursday by the FDA’s advisory committee on vaccines, leading infectious disease experts discussed shifting the goal post ahead of a projected seasonal coronavirus surge.

Some of the attendees are pushing for America to hold off on distributing a vaccine until manufacturers can develop one that can symmetrically treat mild and severe cases.

The remaining contends that there are too many national and global risks associated with persisting outbreaks to warrant discrediting the best we’ve got to offer—even if it doesn’t address all presentations of COVID-19. All parties believe Americans should temper their expectations, however.

Currently, COVID-19 vaccine trials employ between 30,000 and 60,000 participants. This sample size may be enough to reduce mild-cases of the disease but in order to meaningfully decrease deaths and hospitalizations, researchers theorize that study pools need to be 10 times as big.

“Everyone thinks COVID-19 will go away with a vaccine,” William Haseltine, chair and president of Access Health International, explained during a sit-down with Kaiser Health News. “Ongoing clinical trials are primarily designed to show whether Covid-19 vaccines prevent any symptoms of the disease — which could be as minor as a sore throat or cough. But the trials, which will study 30,000 to 60,000 volunteers, will be too short in duration and too small in size to prove that the vaccines will prevent what people fear most — being hospitalized or dying — by the time the first vaccine makers file for emergency authorization, expected to occur later this year.”

Fauci seconded this appraisal during Yahoo Finance’s All Markets Summit on Monday. The immunologist added that addressing mild cases ultimately addresses more severe manifestations of Covid.

Young carriers (who are sometimes asymptomatic) contribute the most to communal outbreaks, so it makes sense that reducing cases among them would yield a substantial domino effect.

“The primary thing you want to do is that if people get infected, prevent them from getting sick, and if you prevent them from getting sick, you will ultimately prevent them from getting seriously ill,” Dr. Fauci said. “What I would settle for, and all of my colleagues would settle for, is the primary endpoint to prevent clinically recognizable disease. “

Flu vaccination is somewhere between 40% and 60% effective among general populations. The measles vaccine is by far the most effective vaccine and there’s still a 2% chance of it being ineffective.

With a tight general election in the foreground, it is safe to assume that measures meant to expedite a safe COVID-19 vaccine may fail some relevant parameters.

Still, with more than 80,000 new cases appearing in the US a day, promising news is allowed a bit of optimism.