Even with vaccines, wearing of masks to be needed for months
NEW YORK— Don’t even think of putting the mask away anytime soon.
Despite the expected arrival of COVID-19 vaccines in just a few weeks, it could take several months— probably well into 2021— before things get back to something close to normal in the U.S. and Americans can once again go to the movies, cheer at an ballgame or give grandma a hug.
The first, limited shipments of the vaccine would mark just the beginning of what could be a long and complicated road toward the end of the pandemic. In the meantime, Americans are being warned not to let their guard down.
“If you’re fighting a battle and the cavalry is on the way, you don’t stop shooting; you keep going until the cavalry gets here, and then you might even want to continue fighting,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, said last week.
This week, AstraZeneca
became the third vaccine maker to say early data indicates its shots are highly effective. Pfizer last week asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency authorization to begin distributing its vaccine, and Moderna is expected to do the same any day. Federal officials say the first doses will ship within a day of authorization.
But most people will prob
ably have to wait months for shots to become widely available. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines also each require two doses, meaning people will have to go back for a second shot after three and four weeks, respectively, to get the full protection.
Moncef Slaoui, head of the U.S. vaccine development effort, said on CNN on Sunday that early data on the Pfizer and Moderna shots suggest about 70% of the population would need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity— a milestone he said is likely to happen in May.
But along the way, experts say the logistical challenges of the biggest vaccination campaign in U.S. history and public fear and misinformation could hinder the effort and kick the end of the pandemic further down the road.
“It’s going to be a slow process and it’s going to be a process with ups and downs, like we’ve seen already,” said Dr. Bill Moss, an infectiousdisease expert at Johns Hopkins University.
Federal and state officials are still figuring out exactly how to prioritize those most at risk, including the elderly, prison inmates and homeless people. By the end of January, HHS officials say, all senior citizens should be able to get shots, assuming a vaccine becomes available by the end of 2020.
For everyone else, they expect widespread availability of vaccines would start a
couple of months later.
To make shots easily accessible, state and federal officials are enlisting a vast network of providers, such as pharmacies and doctor’s offices. But some worry long lines won’t be the problem.
“One of the things that may be a factor that hasn’t been discussed that much is: ‘How many will be willing to be vaccinated?’” said Christine Finley, director of Vermont’s immunization program. She noted the accelerated development of the vaccine and the politics around it have raised worries about safety.
Even if the first vaccines prove as effective as suggested by early data, they won’t have much impact if enough people don’t take them.
Rather than prevent infection entirely, the first COVID-19 vaccines might only prevent illness. Vaccinated people might still be able to transmit the virus— another reason experts say masks will remain crucial for some time.
Another important aspect of vaccines: They can take awhile to work.
The first shot of a COVID-19 vaccine might bring about a degree of protection within a couple of weeks, meaning people who get infected might not get as sick as they otherwise would. But full protection could take up to two weeks after the second shot — or about six weeks after the first shot, said Deborah Fuller, a vaccine expert at the University of Washington.
People who don’t understand that lag could mistakenly think the vaccine made them sick if they happen to come down with COVID-19 soon after a shot. People might also blame the vaccine for unrelated health problems and amplify those fears online.
“All you need is a few people getting on social media,” said Moss of Johns Hopkins University.
new results Tuesday claiming its experimental COVID-19 vaccine was highly effective, and promised it
would cost less on international markets than vaccines by some of its Western competitors.
According to the Russian Direct Investment Fund, which bankrolled the development of the drug, Sputnik V will cost less than $10 per dose— or less than $20 for the two doses needed to vaccinate one person — on international markets.
The vaccination will be free for Russians, the fund said.
Russia drew international criticism for giving Sputnik V regulatory approval in early August, even though it had yet to complete advanced testing among tens of thousands of people.
Leaders in France and Britain on Tuesday announced a tentative easing of lockdown restrictions heading into the holiday season, even while admitting that the coronavirus was far from under control.
The decision to reopen shops, resume indoor entertainment and permit limited holiday gatherings appeared to rub up against a scientific consensus that has underscored the risks of indoor socializing and urged against lifting restrictions too rapidly.