Pandemic Perspective #28         October 3, 2020

            The latest on coronavirus vaccines.

                A former colleague, Dr. Stephen Spector, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at UCSD gave an excellent overview of the status of coronavirus vaccines in an online presentation on October 2nd.

            Of more than 150 vaccines under development only a handful are in the final phases prior to release. As noted in earlier blogs, some are using unique and innovative methods and the range of techniques is remarkable.

            Dr. Spector could not predict when the first ones will be released but he did offer some encouraging news that all of us should be aware of. The best news, in my opinion, is that the vaccines provide antibody responses similar to those of natural infection. That could mean long-lasting immunity. Protective levels are reached in about 14 days.

            To date there have been no reports of serious side effects. The most common one is pain at the injection site in about 50 percent of recipients and many persons have some muscle aches for a few days. Some vaccines require two doses but the good news is that side effects do not increase with the second dose.

            The target effectiveness – the level of protection that the developers expect in a best case scenario — is only 60 percent, a little better than most influenza vaccines. We’d like for it to be much higher (the current measles, shingles and hepatitis vaccines are protective in more than 90 percent of recipients) but it’s likely that even at that level it will modify the disease enough to prevent hospitalization and severe complications.

            One downside to most of these vaccines is the need to maintain storage at very low temperatures, making it a challenge for developing countries that don’t have the freezer technology required.

            Another challenge is matter of acceptance by the public. Only 40 to 60 percent of persons report that they will get the vaccine. Acceptance differs considerably between members of the major political parties. And no, I won’t go there!

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