It is no longer news that there is a covid-19 vaccine. Hooray. I must say it is truly remarkable that a vaccine could be available in such a short time. Vaccines normally take several years to make; this has taken barely nine months. If someone had told me some months ago that there will be an approved vaccine before the end of 2020, I’d have laughed in the person’s face, with my mask on, of course. And now, we have two vaccines. Simply remarkable.
However, as some experts have suggested, making the vaccine is not the most difficult part. Consider it like climbing a mountain. Getting to the base of the mountain is one thing, but it doesn’t end there. In fact, it starts there. We have the vaccine. Now, we need to distribute it.
But before we even get to the distribution stage, the vaccines have to be approved. And some weeks back, Pfizer got their vaccine approved. Moderna’s vaccine was the next to get approved by the FDA. In case you are wondering just how important this is, it’s pretty important.
Remember I said vaccines take years to make? It’s for a good reason. Before you make a vaccine that the public can use, you need to make sure it is very safe. Like, the margin for error has to be very minimal. If you make a poor vaccine and someone uses it, the virus may get resistant to it. And, trust me, the last thing we need now is a vaccine-resistant coronavirus. This is why the FDA cannot approve just any vaccine, despite our urgent need for it. It needs to go through lots of testing and review. See, having an approved vaccine this soon is remarkable.
There’s more good news. While Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines have been approved, the two other frontrunners are making progress on their vaccines too. After this horrible year, this seems like the least we deserve.
After a vaccine is approved, it has to be distributed. This is where things get a little tricky. Calling it a little tricky is just me being modest; it gets very tricky. Many factors come into play. One is the public’s perception of the vaccine. This is perhaps the most difficult to solve because there is little the government or health workers can do. I mean, you can’t force people to take the vaccines.
It is definitely easier for doctors, nurses, and other health workers to get vaccinated than regular people. This is because many have a hard time trusting the safety of the vaccines. After all we’ve been through this year, I can’t say I blame them. However, we need to understand that a vaccine is still our best shot of getting out of this hell.
Another major issue with the distribution is how to go about it. The vaccines are ready, yes, but who gets them first? How do they ensure that the right people get them? How do they get them around the country? All these are questions that need answers.
Distribution of the Pfizer vaccine has already started. There are close to six million Moderna vaccine doses waiting to be distributed. While the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are both approved, there are differences in how they will be distributed. To start with, the federal government will oversee and manage the distribution of the Moderna vaccine, through Operation Warp Speed, unlike the Pfizer vaccine.
The Moderna vaccine will target more remote and rural areas, which was not easy with the Pfizer vaccine. This is largely due to the mode of storage of the two vaccines. Moderna’s vaccine can last for up to 30 days in standard refrigerator temperatures. This is a significant upgrade over Pfizer’s vaccine, which only lasts five days under the same conditions.
The Moderna vaccine also comes in smaller doses, as little as 100. The implication of this is that smaller doses can be moved directly to where they are needed. This contrasts with the Pfizer vaccine, where the vaccines are available in larger quantities and first transported to large hubs before they are redistributed in smaller quantities. In light of this, the Moderna vaccine will be available to more rural areas and smaller hospitals that don’t have the facilities to store the Pfizer vaccine. Some of these areas are Palau and Micronesia.
The Moderna vaccine, just like the Pfizer vaccine, requires two shots to be effective. So, 5.9 million doses will vaccinate about 3 million people. That is still a far cry from the population of the country, about 328 million. Vaccinating the whole country will take time. But we hope to have about 40 million doses from both Pfizer and Moderna before the year runs out. This will vaccinate about 20 million people. That is a very good start.
All these talks of distributing vaccines are music to my ears and to those of millions around the country, especially doctors. However, this should not distract us from the fact that the coronavirus is still very much around. The cases are still rising, and deaths are still piling. So, please, observe social distancing, wear a mask, and follow other covid-19 guidelines. Also, getting the vaccine is not a pass from observing these guidelines.