A year of scientific uncertainty is over. Two vaccines look like they will work, and more should follow.
For all that scientists have done to tame the biological world, there are still things that lie outside the realm of human knowledge. The coronavirus was one such alarming reminder, when it emerged with murky origins in late 2019 and found naive, unwitting hosts in the human body. Even as science began to unravel many of the virus’s mysteries—how it spreads, how it tricks its way into cells, how it kills—a fundamental unknown about vaccines hung over the pandemic and our collective human fate: Vaccines can stop many, but not all, viruses. Could they stop this one?
The answer, we now know, is yes. A resounding yes. Pfizer and Moderna have separately released preliminary data that suggest their vaccines are both more than 90 percent effective, far more than many scientists expected. Neither company has publicly shared the full scope of their data, but independent clinical-trial monitoring boards have reviewed the results, and the FDA will soon scrutinize the vaccines for emergency use authorization. Unless the data take an unexpected turn, initial doses should be available in December.
The tasks that lie ahead—manufacturing vaccines at scale, distributing them via a cold or even ultracold chain, and persuading wary Americans to take them—are not trivial, but they are all within the realm of human knowledge. The most tenuous moment is over: The scientific uncertainty at the heart of COVID-19 vaccines is resolved. Vaccines work. And for that, we can breathe a collective sigh of relief. “It makes it now clear that vaccines will be our way out of this pandemic,” says Kanta Subbarao, a virologist at the Doherty Institute, who has studied emerging viruses.
The invention of vaccines against a virus identified only 10 months ago is an extraordinary scientific achievement. They are the fastest vaccines ever developed, by a margin of years. From virtually the day Chinese scientists shared the genetic sequence of a new coronavirus in January, researchers began designing vaccines that might train the immune system to recognize the still-unnamed virus. They needed to identify a suitable piece of the virus to turn into a vaccine, and one promising target was the spike-shaped proteins that decorate the new virus’s outer shell. Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines both rely on the spike protein, as do many vaccine candidates still in development. These initial successes suggest this strategy works; several more COVID-19 vaccines may soon cross the finish line. To vaccinate billions of people across the globe and bring the pandemic to a timely end, we will need all the vaccines we can get.
But it is no accident or surprise that Moderna and Pfizer are first out of the gate. They both bet on a new and hitherto unproven idea of using mRNA, which has the long-promised advantage of speed. This idea has now survived a trial by pandemic and emerged likely triumphant. If mRNA vaccines help end the pandemic and restore normal life, they may also usher in a new era for vaccine development.
The vaccine by itself cannot slow the dangerous trajectory of COVID-19 hospitalizations this fall or save the many people who may die by Christmas. But it can give us hope that the pandemic will end. Every infection we prevent now—through masking and social distancing—is an infection that can, eventually, be prevented forever through vaccines.
https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/11/vaccines-end-covid-19-pandemic-sight/617141/HELP US SPREAD GOOD NEWS!
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