So We Get A Vaccine, Then What?
A Pair of Personal Stories for Perspective
Alex M. Azar II, Secretary of Health and Human Services, recently stated on Face the Nation that the goal of his agency is 300 million coronavirus vaccine doses by 2021. “It’s not a pledge, it’s a goal.” Their aim is to achieve this by mobilizing the entire U.S. government and private sector to work together.
The program the Trump administration has launched has been named Operation Warp Speed. “What we’re doing is wringing the inefficiency out of the development process to make the development side faster to get to a safe and effective vaccine,” Azar said Sunday. “And at the same time, we’re going to scale up commercial-sized manufacturing to produce hundreds of millions of doses at risk. They may not pan out. They might not prove to be safe and effective, but we’ll have it so we can begin administration right away.”
When I read the news about Operation Warp Speed, it brought to mind two personal experiences I have had with vaccines this past year.
Every fall we’re urged to get a flu vaccine to carry us through the following “flu season.” For some reason I’d never gotten a flu vaccine in my life, but being 67 and hearing it was going to be a bad year for flu, I got my first flu shot last fall. When I got the shot I was told that it’s not 100% effective, but rather somewhere around 60% effective but reduces your risk of serious complications.
It surprised me to hear this, because I’d never heard anything like that before, that flu shots can be so-so as far as effectiveness goes. The bigger surprise, however, was this next one.
My grandmother had shingles around her waist at one time, and it was horrible. My brother had gotten it on his torso and it was bad. Both recovered fortunately. My father-in-law, however, suffered from it on his scalp and experienced ongoing distress about his shingles till the day he died. Because of this, my wife thought it a good idea for each of us to get a shingles vaccine. It’s a very painful experience that one is better to avoid.
Nevertheless I put it off, in part because the vaccines aren’t always available and it was easy to put off. Last year, however, my doctor asked if I’d ever had a shingles vaccine. He suggested that it was a good idea if able. He notified me that I could get the shots at my pharmacy without even coming to the clinic.
So this past fall when the shingles vaccines became available at our local Walgreen’s, I made the appointment. As the designated staff person prepared me for the shot she said, “This is a better vaccine than last year. It lasts for ten years and is 90% effective. Last year’s shingle vaccines were about 30% effective.”
What!? Really? People were getting vaccines in which your odds were less than 50/50 that you would be protected?
With these experiences fresh in my mind, I wondered…
The flu shots are not guaranteed. The shingles vaccines are not guaranteed. They mitigate risk, but you have no promise that they will deliver on the protection promise.
How can anyone believe that a vaccine that will be created and reproduced at warp speed will really deliver us from this novel new virus?
This is not to say an all-out effort shouldn’t be made. I’m simply attempting to manage expectations, both yours and my own. Be wise. Be hopeful. But also Be aware.