As more and more Americans get vaccinated, optimism for the future of this pandemic should be on the rise. Yet many are fearful of the new coronavirus variants detected in other parts of the world, and recently some of those in the U.S. Should we be worried?
Naturally, the media wants us to be fearful; they seem to believe that’s their special role. Yet news from the world is mostly comforting. A recent report from London declared the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca/University of Oxford is effective against a variant of the coronavirus that is spreading rapidly in the U.S. and around the world. This is a reassuring sign for governments banking on mass vaccinations to bring the pandemic to an end.
Other manufacturers reported similar results including Pfizer and Moderna. They found their Covid-19 shots offer protection against new virus variants that have contributed to a fresh surge in cases in the U.K., Europe, South Africa, and elsewhere. Nevertheless, these same vaccine makers are preparing new shots that zero in on the new variants even more precisely. It is likely that such adaptation in the vaccines may be needed in the future much like changes in the flu vaccine are made annually.
Speculation abounds about the new variants and many suggest they are more easily transmissible than the original Covid-19. Some even suggest these may be deadlier, but this is all speculation at this time. Current studies indicate the AstraZeneca vaccine is about 75% effective against the new variants while it is 84% effective against the older strains.
Almost 120 million doses of vaccine have been administered world-wide, according to figures compiled by oxford’s Our World in Data project. Some countries have been more aggressive than others, with Israel and the U.K. moving rapidly to inoculate their most-at-risk citizens. Vaccine makers say the technology behind Covid-19 vaccines should allow them to swiftly retool their production lines to produce shots targeted more precisely at new and emerging variants.
There has been more cause for concern in South Africa. AstraZeneca has temporarily paused a small clinical trial when it appeared to fail to protect recipients against mild and moderate illness from a new variant found only in that country. The country plans to temporarily halt rollout of the vaccine until there is more information on the vaccine’s efficacy.
Johnson & Johnson and Novavax, whose vaccines have yet to be authorized in any country, have also found that their shots were less effective in recent clinical trials in South Africa, compared with trials in the U.S. or U.K. Yet their vaccines were still found to be 50% or more effective at preventing mild or moderate cases of Covid-19 and even more potent at shielding recipients from severe illness and hospitalization from the new strain. The South African health minister still intends to deploy the J & J vaccine soon and has ordered 9 million doses. The J & J vaccine was found to provide 57% efficacy with one shot at preventing mild and moderate cases of Covida-19 and 85% efficacy preventing severe illness.
We are blessed to have so many vaccines available for these new viruses in such a short time. It has only been a year since this pandemic began and there are now two vaccines authorized and being delivered in this country already, and two more likely in the coming weeks. This competition between vaccine makers has been made possible by the public-private partnerships initiated by Operation Warp Speed and these companies will continue to develop new vaccines as more variants of the virus appear worldwide. These vaccines represent the most effective means for ending this pandemic and should be embraced by everyone whenever possible.