The End is Near? The COVID-19 Vaccine is Coming.

By Aidan Judge

Well, it seems 2020 is trying to make up for all the bad with some good news- and it’s not just your average good news. It’s scientific history, actually. 

Just this past week, two of the frontrunners for the highly anticipated COVID-19 vaccine  completed their clinical trials and were submitted for FDA emergency approval. The two vaccines come from major pharma companies BioNTech (in association with Pfizer) and Moderna, who have been working on developing the products since early this year. Decisions on whether or not the vaccines will be approved are coming on December 10th for BioNTech/Pfizer, and the 17th for Moderna.

What truly makes these vaccines a biological marvel comes down to a lot of different factors, including speed, structure, and success. In May of this year, the Trump administration announced “Operation Warp Speed”, an intricate and high-speed plan that would widely distribute the coronavirus vaccine once it was approved and released to the United States government. 

“Warp Speed” was aptly named, given that the vaccine creation process was the fastest in history. Previously, the record for the shortest amount of time to create a vaccine was for mumps–and this took  four years to develop. Obviously, this feat has been shattered by the newly established record of just a mere nine months for the creation of the coronavirus vaccination.

The overall makeup of the vaccine is completely new as well: For the first time in medical history, a vaccine utilizing mRNA proteins instead of a virus itself is being used to create antibodies that fight against disease. This type of vaccination has been in development in the past for disease like the Zika virus, but a true mRNA vaccine has never seen the light of day in the medical market. Here’s how it works: According to the CDC, mRNA vaccines for COVID-19 do not use the live virus when injecting a person with a dose- instead, mRNA vaccines will send instructions to our body’s cells to create harmless “spike proteins” that are found on the surface of COVID-19 cells. This will then instruct our bodies to create antibodies for COVID-19, thus giving us immunization from the virus. To make matters even more promising, both vaccines have shown 90+ percent efficacy in protecting people against the virus, making them some of the most successful vaccines in medical history. mRNA vaccinations could definitely be a game changer for future disease control. 

Both major vaccines, Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech, have submitted their vaccines for “EUA”, or emergency use authorization, and will receive confirmation or denial for distribution soon. Once the vaccine has been approved by the FDA, the United States will immediately begin distribution of the doses. First in line will be health care workers and residents of long term care facilities, followed by 65+ citizens and essential workers, and so on. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci believes that every single US citizen could have access to the vaccine by May of 2021 if all goes according to plan. Just this Monday, the UK received the green light in distribution for the Pfizer vaccine and plans on beginning to give doses next week. 

However, there are a fair amount of obstacles the United States, as well as other nations, could face when vaccine distribution begins. For example, the two frontrunners for the COVID-19 vaccine are both given in two doses, meaning that you receive one dose, and receive another a few weeks later. This could become tricky for a number of reasons- people may forget to get their second vaccination, and it will likely be difficult to keep track of who has had which dose. The US government plans to create a database system in which every person who has gotten a dose of the vaccine will be tracked so pharmacies and hospitals can accurately decipher who needs what dose. 

There also seems to be a build-up of paranoia and skepticism around the trustworthiness of the vaccine. Many US citizens seem to be skeptical of the vaccination, and plan on waiting to get it long after the first release of doses, or not get the vaccine at all. UMass Lowell student Meghan Roberts understands this perspective: “I think people are skeptical of the coronavirus vaccine because they are scared as to what might happen if they do get it.” She continued,  “People will believe anything they read like that the vaccine will put chips into us and the government can track us or those that do not want it because they do not want to deal with the slight side effects.” 

Nevertheless, a good amount of US citizens are very excited about the development and release of the vaccination. Senior Jace Nickerson states, “I am excited about the potential COVID-19 vaccine. I hope that the vaccine is still successful and that people will be comfortable enough to get it, and I’m excited for our world to hopefully be moving into a brighter future.” 

So here’s to hoping the COVID-19 pandemic will go just as quickly as it came. But for now, social distancing, mask-wearing and hand-washing are still a necessity. There’s light at the end of the tunnel!

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