Is anyone else getting tired of the conflicting information coming not only from politicians but from medical professionals regarding the likelihood of a functional vaccine against the novel coronavirus in some relatively short timeframe? Keep in mind that barring the discovery of a nearly universally functional antiviral medication without potentially lethal side effects, a vaccine is the only way that we’re really going to put this entire mess behind us. But before you start holding your breath for one to arrive, sort out the information you’re getting on this subject carefully.
Only this week, President Trump was once again expressing optimism that we’ll have a vaccine by the end of the year. The only thing that most of the experts seem to agree on is that even if one is successfully created, it’s going to take a lot longer than that before it will be widely available to the general public. In this opinion piece from USA Today, doctors are quoted as saying that even under the best of circumstances, you’ll be unlikely to get a novel coronavirus shot by the end of next year.
Many experts are saying that we can expect a COVID-19 vaccination in 12 to 18 months. They argue that the science is straightforward. The same cannot be said, though, of clinical testing and manufacturing vaccines at scale. In fact, few people will likely be vaccinated for coronavirus in 2021.
It typically takes five years to bring to market a vaccine for a new disease. Previous efforts to produce vaccines on a large scale, including a government-funded effort by Novartis to build a flu-vaccine facility, took years and hundreds of millions of dollars. Furthermore, the Novartis facility’s initial capacity was only 50 million vaccines a year —enough to serve just 15% of the U.S. population.
Rather than counting on a vaccine to quickly resolve the health and economic challenges arising from COVID-19, it’s more realistic to plan for the small supply of vaccines we’re likely to have in 2021. We should also consider how we can use the vaccine alongside strategies such as social distancing and diagnostics to limit further spread of the virus.