The COVID-19 vaccine race comes with moral questions

Coronavirus Facts First

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — As the race to perfect a COVID-19 vaccine continues there are emerging questions about who should get it first.

Dr. Jeff Harp of Highland Family Medicine discussed progress on a vaccine Tuesday during News 8 at Sunrise.

“Worldwide there are now 10 vaccines in phase 3 trials,” said Dr. Harp. “Phase 3 trials involve tens of thousands of subjects and usually take 2-3 years to complete. Even on the ‘warp speed’ schedule being used for COVID-19 it will take at least six months to get results. There must be enough time to allow researchers to catalogue side effects, determine whether people who are vaccinated actually are protected from the disease, and determine how long the immunity produced by the vaccine lasts.”

Herd immunity will be an important factor when it comes to the success of the vaccine. “It refers to the fact that a disease will not spread in the population if a certain percentage of the population is immune to that disease, either through being infected or immunized, even if not everyone is immune,” explained Dr. Harp. “The percentage of the population which needs to be immune varies by the type of disease. The lowest estimate for COVID-19 is that almost half the population will need to be immune before there is herd immunity. As many as 80% of the population may need to be immune.”

Dr. Harp said getting that many people vaccinated will be a challenge. “There are significant hurdles to be overcome. Most of the vaccines will require a booster, always with the same vaccine type, so that there will need to be an ongoing supply of vaccine of each vaccine type used. Some of the vaccines must be stored at very cold temperatures requiring equipment which is not readily available outside of hospitals. Many people are skeptical about vaccination so that some people will choose not to be vaccinated. And the virus seems to be mutating so that some of the vaccines and we develop may become less effective as the virus changes.”

Who will receive the approved vaccine first is uncertain. “There are less than 10 countries involved in developing the current vaccinations,” said Dr. Harp. “Will citizens of those countries receive vaccines first or will the vaccine be distributed more evenly throughout the world? Should the most vulnerable people be vaccinated first – which would prioritize older individuals – or should those with the most potential for ongoing contribution to society – which would prioritize younger individuals – be prioritized? These are questions that will be addressed.”

Dr. Harp concluded, “Many talented people around the world are working on all of the issues we have mentioned. Most estimate that it will be at least nine months before vaccination will begin large-scale. In the meantime, staying home when ill, masking, distancing and disinfection – if practiced properly and consistently by everyone – are effective defenses and should be continued.”

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