Since the beginning of the pandemic, widespread talk about a COVID-19 vaccine has been viewed as the best way to get society back on its feet. Since then, researchers and scientists have been working to develop a vaccine at record speed to give the world some hope. But what does a COVID-19 vaccine actually mean for us? How will it look and how will it work? Let’s get to the bottom of the COVID-19 immunization.
High Hopes for the Development of a COVID-19 Vaccine
COVID-19 vaccine progress
In general, vaccines take research that can last years before getting to a good point for clinical use. Historically, the first polio epidemic occurred in 1894, and it took many versions and trials of the polio vaccine before landing on an oral polio vaccine (OPV) version in 1961. In the case of influenza, two types of influenza vaccine are widely available: inactivated influenza vaccines (IIV) and live attenuated influenza vaccines (LAIV). Both IIV and LAIV have been produced to protect against 3 different seasonal influenza viruses. As you can see, there’s a bit of nuance to vaccine development.
But with the pandemic on the rise in many areas of the U.S. and a contradicting, desperate pull to get back to school, back to work, and back to our daily lives, there is increased pressure to find a safe and effective vaccine immediately. This isn’t surprising—a coronavirus vaccine could mean our society gets back to being a well-oiled machine, boosting our economy and lowering the death rate.
Currently, dozens of vaccines are being developed to fight coronavirus and researchers have put two of the vaccines into the final stages of human testing. Some predictions by pharmaceutical execs expect the coronavirus vaccine to be available before the end of the year, or even by October. At the same time, public health experts are worried that hopes for a vaccine may be too high.
Getting real about the vaccine
Public health experts have concerns that the overconfidence in a COVID-19 vaccine from companies, politicians, and other influences in the limelight could give the public impractical ideas about a “COVID cure.” With people facing pandemic fatigue and healthcare workers being overburdened, it’s completely understandable that people want their same old version of “normal” again. So it’s no surprise that when an influential person, a politician, or a person of authority pins all their hopes on a vaccine, the general population will follow suit. Anything to get “back to normal” right? Public health experts fear that this mentality could cause people to ease up on the actions they’re taking now to slow the spread.
If a vaccine is coming and it will cure everything, why bother with wearing a mask or physical distancing from family and friends? Why not go to that theme park with the family? Why not let your kids go to that huge back-to-school party? A vaccine is coming, and it will help everything.
Or the other angle: I’ll just stay in my house until a vaccine arrives and then I can behave like I normally did before COVID struck us.
These attitudes are simply not an accurate representation of how coronavirus affects the population, or a way to solve it. After all, a coronavirus vaccine isn’t the knight in shining armor that will save us all from a life of physical distancing, halted activities, and mask-wearing. Here’s why—
What does a realistic COVID-19 vaccine look like?
A misconception we need to face about a COVID-19 vaccine is that it will most likely not be a one-and-done type deal. Research on seasonal coronaviruses and other closely related viruses to COVID-19 shows that the vaccine probably won’t help for someone’s entire lifespan, and more research is necessary to nail down the details on how effective and how long a COVID-19 vaccine could work. This doesn’t mean that all hope is lost—we can still dampen the effects of this virus through standard precautionary measures. Upon the development of a COVID-19 vaccine, it will be important to keep in mind that even science has its limits.
In tandem with the hope for a vaccine, we are all reminded to stay grounded and serious about the pandemic and do our due diligence to help slow the spread. There is no “cure-all” for what we are experiencing, even with a vaccine in development and it certainly won’t be a quick fix. As weary as everyone is of physical distancing, politicizing face masks, and adaptations to a new normal, it is too soon to hitch our wagon to a proverbial star. In an Aug. 3 briefing, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the WHO delivered a dose of reality to the public, "There's no silver bullet at the moment and there might never be."
Visit the New York Times vaccine tracker for continued vaccine updates and phase progress.