A COVID-19 Vaccine is Finally Here. What Comes Next?
It’s easy to take something like the polio vaccine for granted. No child in the Western world will ever get the disease, and we’re a full generation removed from it ever having existed. For those living during the era of polio, waiting six years for a vaccine to be developed might have felt like an eternity — and polio was hardly a pandemic. As we break the one-year milestone in our current COVID-19 pandemic, it coincides with the first emergency authorization of a vaccine — an unprecedented feat of science.
The COVID-19 vaccine is a scientific marvel
As of January 2021, both Pfizer’s and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccinations have been authorized for emergency use in the United States, among other countries around the world. Abroad, AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine has been approved for the U.K., India, and other countries. The vaccines are already being administered to individuals over the age of 16.
The first emergency use authorization was a shining light for many healthcare workers across the country. It signaled the first step toward the end of the pandemic. However, it also signaled the immense capabilities of the medical community. The two vaccines now being given to U.S. residents were developed in record time compared to other life-saving vaccines that are common today:
- The chicken pox vaccine took 28 years
- FluMist took 25+ years
- The HPV vaccine took 15 years
- The rotavirus vaccine took 15 years
- The polio vaccine took six years
With the COVID-19 vaccine available and cleared for use, state leaders created a vaccination plan to guide its rollout while supply is still being produced. In almost all areas, frontline healthcare workers like doctors and nurses are at the top of the list, receiving the earliest opportunity for vaccination.
There are still challenges ahead
With two vaccines ready and available for administration, the biggest challenge the U.S. faces now is trying to distribute vaccines to everyone who needs them in the middle of an escalating pandemic. One of the ways the government aims to reduce risks in this area is by prioritizing particular groups, including frontline healthcare workers.
This decision makes sense for virus mitigation. Doctors and nurses are repeatedly exposed to the virus when treating COVID-19-positive patients. By vaccinating these critical professionals, both healthcare providers and their patients are better protected from contracting COVID-19.
Following healthcare workers, most states will begin vaccinating other at-risk groups, such as the residents and employees of senior care facilities, emergency medical services (EMS) personnel and first responders, and residents over the age of 65. This plan protects the groups most susceptible to the virus to reduce COVID-19 hospitalizations and the burden on the healthcare system. The rollout will continue until vaccines are plentiful enough to be administered to the general public.
Right now, vaccine administration is moving slowly because there are only three approved vaccines and a limited supply. Fortunately, several other vaccines are in development and may be approved in the near future. This will expand the U.S.’s ability to inoculate people at a higher rate.
Over the course of this year, most at-risk individuals can expect to have access to the vaccine to better protect themselves, their families, and the general public.