An America exhausted by 2020 is understandably excited about Pfizer’s recently announced Covid-19 vaccine. In its Phase Three study, the vaccine proved to be 90% effective (!) in preventing infection and is expected to get Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the FDA by the end of November. But it’s going to take time to get full approval and wide distribution, even for those in high risk groups.
Colorado has drafted distribution plans that prioritize healthcare workers, pharmacists, police officers, firefighters, public health workers, and corrections staff, followed by nursing home and assisted living residents.
In the next phase, the vaccine will be given to homeless people living in shelters, adult group home residents, workers such as ski industry and agricultural employees who share living spaces, students living in dormitories, essential workers such as grocery store workers, teachers and child care workers, and employees of businesses such as the meat-packing sector where workers are in close proximity to each other. In the second part of this phase, people who are over age 65 or have certain health risks will get vaccine.
That’s several hundred thousand people, by some counts, and all of them require two injections, not just one. The first batch of vaccine could contain as few as 20,000 doses, or enough to effectively vaccinate 10,000 people. Obviously it could still be quite some time before the general population gets vaccinated, even with several other vaccines coming down the pike.
But it gets even more complicated.
From Pro Publica’s “Most States Aren’t Ready to Distribute the Leading COVID-19 Vaccine”:
The Pfizer vaccine is unusually difficult to ship and store: It is administered in two doses given 21 days apart, has to be stored at temperatures of about minus 100 degrees Fahrenheit and will be delivered in dry ice-packed boxes holding 1,000 to 5,000 doses. These cartons can stay cold enough to keep the doses viable for up to 10 days, according to details provided by the company. The ice can be replenished up to three times. Once opened, the packages can keep the vaccine for five days but can’t be opened more than twice a day. The vaccine can also survive in a refrigerator for five days but can’t be refrozen if unused.
Many of the usual vaccine distribution points do not have supercold storage facilities. And those large containers shipped by the government may need to be broken down into smaller packages for smaller and rural facilites — all while maintaining the necessary cold storage. There must also be an effective system for notifying people when their second dose is due and available.
When Pfizer announced their new vaccine just a few days after the election, Trump saw political motivation in the timing, calling it a ploy to weaken his re-election chances. Obviously it would have helped him if it had been announced before the election.
As it turns out, Pfizer was not a part of Trump’s “Operation Warp Speed.” Its vaccine development began in April, preceding Trump’s plan, and was largely financed through its partner BioNTech SE, which received funding from the German government.
But does it really matter who get the credit? Pfizer and others are in the home stretch with their vaccines and by next spring and summer, the sun should be shining again.
(Knock wood and cross your fingers, just in case. Can’t hurt. Meanwhile, you know the drill: wear your mask, keep your distance, and wash your hands frequently.)