The news is encouraging.
Two pharmaceutical companies and one biotech company More than 90% efficacy has been reported in clinical trials involving coronavirus vaccines, and they may be available to the public soon.
But producing these vaccines takes time, and supplies will be limited initially. So, as these companies prepare to seek emergency clearance from the Food and Drug Administration, important decisions must be made about who should be vaccinated first. And the second. and so on.
It may seem apparent that health workers and those most at risk by COVID-19 – elderly people in nursing homes with underlying health problems – should be the first.
But beyond those priority populations, it gets less clear.
Mathematics and Modeling
Eva Lee, director of the Center for Operations Research in Medicine and Healthcare at Georgia Institute of Technology, told Digital Science that knowing how to allocate vaccines is “a very complex problem.” Not darkened.
Deciding the order in which groups should receive the vaccine depends on what kinds of priorities we set. As the Undark article indicates, the question is: Do we often want to prevent deaths? Or is the priority to slow down transmission?
If we want to prevent deaths, the first vaccines must go to the “at-risk” population over the age of 65. But if we want to slow transmission, then perhaps the primary recipients must be the biggest spreaders: young people.
Mathematicians have been busy developing vaccine release models that take into account age-based factors like these. But there are many others who can determine the most effective targeting of who might be next in arranging vaccinations: housing, socioeconomic status, local infection and transmission rates, and even postal codes.
So who decides?
The group that determines the vaccination arrangement is the CDC’s Immunization Practices Advisory Committee. ACIP is a group of medical and public health professionals, and on November 23 it released a group of four Ethical principles To guide first assignments of COVID-19 vaccines.
The ACIP said the priorities would be to provide the vaccine first for healthcare workers and those most at risk and to ensure that everyone, regardless of their socioeconomic status, ultimately has access to vaccines.
More specifically, ACIP will operate according to a distribution plan announced in October by a federal committee the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
That plan identified four phases of distribution:
- Front-line health workers, emergency medical teams, first responders, people at risk with underlying health conditions or with two or more chronic conditions, and people aged 65 or over in collective living facilities
- Everyone over the age of 65, important personnel in high-risk situations (teachers, health care workers), people with underlying health conditions that put them at moderate risk, and people under the age of 65 who are in prisons, prisons or detention centers.
- Young people between the ages of 18 and 30, children (if they are safe for them), and people who work in industries such as banking, higher education, hotels and factories.
- No one else.
It is interesting to note here that young people, as the most active publishers, receive vaccines earlier than most elderly people under the age of 65.
On November 20, Pfizer became the first pharmaceutical company to apply for emergency clearance from the Food and Drug Administration (approval of an unapproved medical product) for the COVID-19 vaccine. Moderna, a biotech company, is expected to apply for emergency permission soon.
Pfizer said it expects to produce enough to vaccinate 12.5 million Americans by the end of this year, or about 3.7% of the country’s population of 330 million.
Other manufacturers, like AstraZeneca (Which has had a success rate of over 90% in clinical trials) and several dozen more may be OK as well. The widespread availability of vaccines to all Americans remains unpredictable until late 2021.
The road ahead to COVID-19 vaccination is full of doubts.
We’ve taken a big step up with early successes in clinical trials. But the enormous physical challenge of manufacturing and distributing vaccines to 330 million people is arduous.
In addition to increasing production of the vaccines themselves, factories also need to increase production of vials, needles and other equipment. Some vaccines need to be frozen in extreme cold, which requires the construction and distribution of large cooling units.
Meanwhile, until the day you get vaccinated, it will still be important to follow the same safety rules that you may have been following since March. Stay home as much as possible, wear masks, and practice social distancing when you are outside.
The end of the pandemic may be in sight. We need to be patient for a little longer.