Last week the Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) for Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine. It will join the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine which began being administered last week at major medical centers to frontline healthcare workers. Both vaccines consist of a two shot series given 3-4 weeks apart. At the completion of a two shot series each was shown to be highly effective in its ability to prevent infection following exposure to the COVID-19 virus. The Pfizer vaccine was shown to be 95% effective in preventing infection while Moderna’s vaccine was 94.1% effective. The Moderna vaccine has certain advantages over the Pfizer vaccine in that it can be stored in standard freezers and once thawed may then be kept refrigerated for 30 days prior to first use. This would make it much more suitable for clinics or doctors offices where ultra cold storage freezers are less likely to be found. No one has questioned that frontline healthcare workers should be the first to receive the vaccine. The question is who comes next? The famous Abbott and Costello routine goes “who’s on first, what’s on second?” A federal advisory panel on Sunday suggested that the next groups to be vaccinated should include those that are 75 years of age & above and essential workers. Essential workers would include teachers, police, firefighters, postal workers, grocery store workers, transportation workers and factory workers. The only problem with this category is that many teachers and grocery retail are young and low risk for complications and death from a COVID-19 infection. Vaccinations should focus on those at greatest risk of DEATH from this virus. Age is the number one risk factor in hospitalizations and death from COVID-19. Priorities are determined by each state and Texas has already gone against the panel and made age the top priority for the next group to receive the vaccine.
A new variant strain of the virus has been detected in the U.K. and some countries have already banned flights from that region. Doctors have actually known about the viral mutation for several months as it was first discovered in September. Most authorities feel that the mutant strain is already in the U.S. and therefore banning flights from the U.K. would be useless. This new strain is more contagious (up to 70% more so) but possibly less lethal. At this point they believe the vaccines will be effective for the new strain. In the early months of the pandemic researchers speculated that the virus would mutate and that our vaccines may have to be adjusted yearly much like the influenza vaccine. It may be necessary to receive a COVID-19 vaccine each year for the latest strain of the virus. There are several more COVID-19 vaccines that are nearing approval and it is hoped that everyone who WANTS to be vaccinated, regardless of age, can be given a safe & effective vaccine by summer. If that can be accomplished we will reach herd immunity and get back to life as we once remember it!