Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, everybody has been waiting for a vaccine to come out so we can start returning to our normal lives. Since the start of November, three vaccines have started seeking approval for release. News stations often throw around numbers about these vaccines, like how effective they are and how many doses would be needed. It can be hard to keep track of all this information and know what all the numbers even mean. In this article, I will go over all the data we have on the vaccines and what it means for resolving the pandemic.
First, let’s talk about the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines since they are very similar. Both are about 95 percent effective, which basically means that 95 percent of those who receive the vaccine will be protected from contracting the virus. The research isn’t official, but if it’s anything like the flu vaccine the other five percent of people will still have slight protection and will have less severe symptoms if they do contract the virus. The other thing they have in common is that you need to get two doses for it to be effective, and they need to be about two weeks apart. At the moment, most people consider the Moderna vaccine to be slightly better for a couple of main reasons. One reason is that it’s part of the White House’s Operation Warp Speed, which means it has better funding and can mass-produce more easily. The other reason is the Pfizer vaccine needs to be kept at about -70 degrees celsius and can only be stored at fridge temperatures for five days. The Moderna vaccine can stay at fridge temperatures for about 30 days, making it significantly easier to distribute and store. Despite the clear advantages of the Pfizer vaccine, it is still very good that we have two options, as that will close to double the number of doses we can get out.
The other vaccine that is closest to being ready for distribution is the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine. The biggest problem with this vaccine is the low effectiveness of about 70 percent. For many, this is a deal-breaker, since even if you get vaccinated there is a 30 percent chance you will contract the virus if you come into contact with it. However, as I said in the previous paragraph, the more vaccines we have the better—since getting a less effective vaccine is better than having to wait many months for a more effective one. Additionally, Pfizer and Moderna are primarily concerned with distributing the vaccine to the US, so this Oxford vaccine is good for other countries in need. It also has a huge upside of being able to be kept at fridge temperatures for up to six months. This allows distribution to happen in waves and rare side effects can be monitored more closely.
Overall, the three vaccines each have their own strengths and weaknesses and are better for different situations. Pfizer is working on different methods to store theirs more conveniently, including small pods that use dry ice to keep the vaccine cold. It does seem like the Moderna vaccine is the best overall option, as it has high effectiveness and is not too inconvenient to store. Most people speculate that the highest risk people could receive the vaccine as soon as late December, and millions of people could be vaccinated by early 2021. With vaccines, there is always an aspect of unpredictability, and things could go much better or worse than expected. If a new side effect is discovered it could delay the release of the vaccines for months, or longer. Experts agree that if a vaccine hits the public, it is crucial that everybody who can take it will take it. Joseph Ernst, a doctor at UCSF, said “I would say it’s a personal decision on when to be vaccinated, not whether to be vaccinated.” As long as the vaccines clear the trials, most agree there is no non-medical reason not to get it.