The beginning of the vaccine rollout seemed, to many people, like the beginning of the end. Both the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccine have been FDA approved and have an efficacy rate of 94-95%. Now, over 1 million Americans have received the vaccine, but to reach herd immunity we’ll need a lot more than that.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institution of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that the timeline for herd immunity is dependent on Americans’ willingness to receive the vaccine. He believes, “If 75 percent to 80 percent of Americans are vaccinated… in the second quarter of the year, then the U.S. should reach the herd immunity threshold months later.” According to a Kaiser survey from this January, 20% of Americans would not get the vaccine unless mandatory, and another 31% wanted to “wait and see” before considering vaccination. This kind of hesitancy towards the vaccination could lead to the continuation of social distancing measures and mask mandates through 2021… or even 2022.
Biden inherited a “nonexistent” vaccine rollout plan from former President Trump and had to create a new rollout plan from scratch. He plans to have 100 million doses administered during his first 100 days in office. Unfortunately, his plan may not reach all people equally.
Black and Latino groups are hospitalized with COVID-19 at 4 times the rate of white people. Dr. Christopher King, chair of the Health Systems Administration department at Georgetown University, said “when we follow the data and prioritize based on who’s dying and who’s getting this disease the most, it’s going to take you to communities of color, unfortunately.” Additionally, a CNN analysis of the vaccine rollout showed that vaccine coverage is twice as high in white communities than black and Latino ones. This is partly because of limited access to healthcare in communities of color, but also because of limited time slots for vaccinations. The vaccine is typically offered between the hours of 9 am and 5 pm, exactly the time when many Americans are working. People of color, unfortunately, often cannot afford to take time off work to get a COVID-19 vaccination. Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, has been taking steps, like creating shuttles for people without cars, to help the distribution of vaccines. These steps, however, may be undermined by the new COVID-19 variants floating around the US.
The first case of the fast-spreading UK variant in the US was discovered in late December. A Colorado man isolating in Elbert Country was confirmed to have the variant but had no travel history. This indicates the variant was already in the US, or at least in Colorado. On January 30th, Maryland reported an adult in Baltimore had contracted a more contagious strain of COVID-19 from South Africa. This news came just a week after South Carolina reported that the first two cases of the South African strains had been confirmed in their state. Whether these variants make the new vaccines less effective is still unclear.
Pfizer reported that they are currently testing their vaccine against the UK variant and that “findings do not indicate the need to find a new vaccine.” Moderna reported that their company is looking into a booster that would produce more antibodies against the UK strain particularly. Neither have reported on the strength against the new South African strain.
The best way to prevent exposure to COVID-19 before you get a vaccine is to wear a mask, a practice that has been proven time and time again. In fact, the CDC has recommended double masking to help limit the spread of many variants. So stay safe, double-mask up, and eat the rich.