COVID-19: an end in sight?

We have been living in a time of a global pandemic for a year now, and it goes without saying that we are ready for this to come to an end. Luckily, it seems as though that end may be approaching since vaccine distribution has begun. 

On Dec. 8, 2020, the first person received the Pfizer vaccine in the United Kingdom, and on Dec. 14, 2020, the first person in the United States received the vaccine.

The vaccine will be dispersed in phases to ensure that those most in need receive the first of a limited amount of available doses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Phase 1a will be the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, and they will go to healthcare personnel and residents of long-term care facilities. The next phase, Phase 1b, will disperse doses to frontline essential workers and people aged 75 and older. Phase 1c will disperse doses to people aged 65-74 years, people aged 16-64 years with underlying medical conditions and other essential workers. 

Recommendations to distribute the vaccine to other Americans have not yet been released by the CDC.

The CDC has reported that a total of 21,848,655 vaccine doses have been administered as of Jan. 25, but the initial hope was for a total of 20 million doses to be administered by the end of 2020. The federal government distributed different amounts of vaccines to each of the states based on their population, and the states are responsible for distributing those vaccines to the people. However, there have certainly been difficulties getting the vaccine out, and some states have been more successful than others. 

Despite continuous reassurance from scientists that the vaccine is safe and effective, some individuals are skeptical about receiving the vaccine. Understanding how the vaccine works may clear up some confusion.

“Viruses are not living; therefore, they need a host to survive and reproduce, unlike bacteria,” said biology teacher Jennifer Gampel. “This is why they also do not survive long in the air and on surfaces. Viruses hijack our body and use our body’s machinery to reproduce and spread. It contains instructions that it gives our own cells to make more viruses.” 

Vaccines are used to fight these viruses.

“Vaccines work by training our immune system to create proteins (antibodies) to recognize and fight infection,” continued Gampel. “Most vaccines work by giving you a dead or weakened version of the virus so your body can recognize the ‘real’ virus when it invades your body. The COVID-19 vaccine is slightly different. It is a mRNA vaccine, which contains material from the virus that causes COVID-19, that gives our cells instructions for how to make a harmless protein that is unique to the virus. After our cells make copies of the protein, they destroy the genetic material from the vaccine. Our bodies recognize that the protein should not be there and build antibodies that will remember how to fight the virus that causes COVID-19 if we are infected in the future.”

As of right now, there are two vaccines: the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, and the Moderna vaccine. According to the CDC, the Pfizer vaccine consists of two shots, 21 days apart, and the Moderna vaccine consists of two shots, 28 days apart. The Pfizer vaccine is recommended for those 16 years and older, and the Moderna vaccine for those 18 years and older, but there are other restrictions to who can get the vaccines based on allergies. 

The vaccine will help to prevent the spread of the virus, but the CDC still recommends that even after receiving the vaccine, during the pandemic we should be wearing masks and social distancing. 

“The sooner we can reach herd immunity and a large percentage of the population has been vaccinated the safer it will be,” added Gampel. “At the time of this interview, the logistics of getting the vaccine to everyone is tricky, and [the vaccine for] kids (under 16) is still in a trial period. Masks and social distancing are still our best line of defense while we wait for vaccine protection.” 

As the first doses of the vaccine are administered, there is a mutant strand of the COVID-19 virus that seems to be spreading faster and that was first detected in the United Kingdom in Sept. 2020. This variant has spread to other countries, including the United States, and according to the CDC there are 22 confirmed cases caused by a variant in New York and four confirmed cases caused by a variant in Connecticut as of Jan. 22.  

“As far as I have been hearing, although new strands may be slightly more infectious they do not seem more severe and we are hopeful the vaccine will provide the same level of protection,” explained Gampel. “As with many viruses, COVID mutates or changes its shape and form, and we can hope that some of these changes may trend to a less virulent strain in the future!” 

Having a vaccine is a major accomplishment, but we do still need a government that will distribute the vaccine effectively and reduce the spread of the virus. With the Trump administration having left office on Jan. 20, we are all anticipating how the new administration will handle the virus. 

According to the Executive Summary in the “National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness,” released by the White House on Jan. 21, Biden’s plan consists of seven goals: “restore trust with the American people,” “mount a safe, effective, comprehensive vaccination campaign,” “mitigate spread through expanding masking, testing, treatment, data, workforce and clear public health standards,” “immediately expand emergency relief and exercise the Defense Production Act,” “safely reopen schools, businesses and travel while protecting workers,” “protect those most at risk and advance equity, including across racial, ethnic and rural/urban lines” and “restore U.S. leadership globally and build better preparedness for future threats.”    

Regardless of what happens over the next few months, or even years, one thing is certain: if individuals continue to not trust science, our country will be unable to control this virus, and more lives will be lost. Clearly, the Trump administration could have done a better job with handling this virus, and we have sorely paid the cost as a result. But going forward, our government must restore the people’s trust in science, rather than fanning the flames of skepticism, and we must be willing to make the necessary sacrifices in our lives that will protect us all in the long run.

Image Credit: Google

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