By Sanskriti Chandak
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about unprecedented change. With over 70 million cases across the globe and over 1.5 million deaths till date, this has been one of the worst human catastrophes of the century. While the United States accounts for only 4% of the world’s population, it has nearly 23% of the world’s covid cases and 19% of the world’s covid deaths. During the current winter surge, an American is reported dead every 34 seconds and 150 positive cases are being recorded every minute. As we look to end this pandemic, many have their sights set on the COVID-19 vaccines.
Pfizer Inc. is an American multinational pharmaceutical corporation. Its COVID-19 vaccine uses the mRNA technology. In this manner, it is different from traditional vaccines which use weakened or dead versions of a virus, or a laboratory-generated protein. Similarly, Moderna is an American biotechnology company based in Massachusetts which has also received emergency authorization by The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for its COVID-19 vaccine. Both vaccines use the virus’s genetic code to prompt the cells to build spike protein on the surface of the coronavirus, teaching the immune system how to recognize and fight the virus.
With two vaccines approved for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by the FDA for individuals 16 years of age or older, the United States has deployed a new smartphone application known as V-safe. V-safe is a health checker for people who have received the COVID-19 vaccine. This app routinely checks in with people who have received the vaccination and provides emergency contact details for anyone who experiences any side effects. It also reminds you to get your second COVID-19 vaccine dose.
The vaccine shot is free in the United States, however there may be administrative fees for giving the shot. This can be reimbursed by the patient’s public and private insurance company or for uninsured patients by the Health Resources and Service Administration’s Provider Relief Fund. Once the vaccine is widely available, it will be offered at doctor’s offices, retail pharmacies, hospitals and federally equipped health centers. As of now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended that the vaccine be provided first to healthcare personnel and residents of long-term care facilities. As the vaccine becomes more widely available, accessibility will increase to various groups in descending order of their vulnerability to COVID-19.
The vaccine is aimed at preventing people who have already gotten COVID-19 from re-infection and preventing people from getting sick with COVID-19. While the FDA set a bar of 50 percent efficacy for vaccine makers who want to submit their candidacy for emergency authorization, the Pfizer vaccine is known to have an efficacy of 95 percent and the Moderna vaccine is known to have an efficacy of over 90 percent as well. To put this into context, the influenza vaccine or the flu shot taken every year is in reality only 40 to 60 percent effective, at best. However, two doses of the measles vaccine are 97 percent effective. In light of this, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine’s efficacy displays its potential.
Furthermore, given that both the Pfizer vaccine and the Moderna vaccine require two shots is said to improve its effectiveness. As released in reports by Pfizer and Moderna, the current known side effects include fatigue, chills, fever, pain at the injection site, muscle aches and headaches. Most side effects are expected to subside within a few days after receiving the injection. According to the CDC, the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks and by immunizing enough people to achieve herd immunity, the disease can no longer spread or cause large outbreaks.
Pfizer has shipped 2.9 million doses to the locations specified by the United States Government. It also expects to deliver 50 million doses globally this year and 1.3 billion in 2021. Moderna has claimed that it expects to have between 100 million to 125 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine available globally in the first quarter of 2021. 85 to 100 million of those doses would be available in the United States. This figures are part of the 500 million to 1 billion doses the biotech company aims to manufacture globally in 2021.
More than 130,000 people have received the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine across the United States so far. Vice President Mike Pence and Second Lady Karen Pence alongside Surgeon General Jerome Adams received the vaccine shot live on television on December 18. Similarly, President elect Joe Biden and Former Second Lady of the United States Jill Biden received the Pfizer vaccine at the Christiana Hospital in Newark, Delaware on December 21 to promote the safety and efficacy of the vaccine and build confidence among the American people. In addition, Vice-President elect Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff are expected to get their first shots next week.
However, it is eminently important to note that the vaccine is not a replacement for the measures that are currently in place – wearing a mask, washing your hands, social distancing – it is simply a mere addition to the current public safety measures. Moreover, although vaccine shots are now being administered on a daily basis, supply is limited. Therefore, it will take time to immunize enough of the population to stop the virus from spreading. Thus, while the end of the pandemic may be in sight, the pandemic has not ended yet. So, mask up, stay home and stay safe to protect yourself and your loved ones during these turbulent times. Happy holidays.