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What you need to know about COVID vaccines

Finally some good news: two COVID vaccines have proven highly effective in tests.

After all the challenges we’ve faced in the wake of the pandemic, the buzz about COVID vaccines is exciting, but also raises questions. Can we trust these new vaccines? What does this mean for the U.S.? Will everything open up again? When will we get back to normal?

In this article, we’ll address your most pressing questions about the COVID vaccine and what you can expect in the coming months.

Are the COVID vaccines safe?

There are currently two COVID vaccines being developed: one from a company called Moderna and the other from a partnership between Pfizer and BioNTech. So far, both companies have shared the results from their COVID vaccine trials. Though there’s still a long way to go to test their effectiveness, the initial results look promising.

How is vaccine effectiveness tested?

Let’s look at Moderna’s process as an example of how the COVID vaccine is tested. Moderna’s team of scientists administered the vaccine to one group of volunteers and used a placebo with another group. The term placebo refers to a “fake” vaccine that’s used to compare effectiveness with the real one.

Over time, some of the volunteers became ill with COVID-19. To assess the initial results, an independent board of experts evaluated the first 95 volunteers who became ill. Ninety of them had received the placebo, while only five had received the vaccine. Based on this data, experts estimated that this COVID vaccine is 94.5% effective.

If the vast majority of volunteers avoided infection, what happened to the five people who were vaccinated and still got sick? None of these volunteers experienced COVID’s most severe symptoms. This suggests that Moderna's vaccine not only blocks the virus in most cases, but also protects people from the most severe symptoms.

In addition, a new study has found that most people who recover from COVID generate enough immune cells after eight months to fend off the virus and avoid getting sick again. This bodes well if the pandemic continues to resurface over a longer period of time. Researchers believe that the COVID vaccine will protect us for years, perhaps even decades.

How long will it take to get back to normal?

Both vaccine companies are applying for approval to begin vaccinating the public and expect to begin distribution later this year. However, even if one or both vaccines receive clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it will take months to distribute it to the entire population. Some experts estimate that the COVID vaccine could reach mass distribution by May 2021, though this means life won’t be back to normal until 2022.

How will COVID vaccines be distributed?

Some groups will be able to access the COVID vaccine later this year and early next year. Once approved, distribution will be carried out in four phases:

  • Phase 1: Health care workers, the elderly, and people with pre-existing conditions;
  • Phase 2: Essential workers, teachers, workers at homeless shelters, incarcerated people, etc.;
  • Phase 3: Children and young adults;
  • Phase 4: The general public.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the COVID vaccine will be widely distributed by the middle of next year.

What does this mean for the U.S. and for my family?

Will stores and restaurants open up again? Will jobs and large events return? In the short term, no. If COVID vaccines are proven effective and most people get vaccinated, the pandemic could be dramatically reduced. However, this will be a gradual change, not an immediate one. In the long run, life will gradually return to normal as COVID-19 infections become more infrequent.

Patience and cooperation are key to beating COVID-19

Even with the discovery of a COVID vaccine, we must be patient while its effectiveness is thoroughly tested. Remember that even if one or more vaccines are approved this year, there won’t be enough vaccines available to change the course of the pandemic for some time. In other words, we shouldn’t let our guard down just because there’s a COVID vaccine. In fact, the virus is only spreading faster now that 2020 is coming to an end, so you should continue to follow the COVID protocols described here.

Ultimately, the scientific community estimates that the pandemic will improve within 7-9 months. The fact that two highly effective COVID vaccines have already been discovered is unprecedented, so we should be grateful that we’ve reached this milestone and prepare to hold on a little longer.

Remember that SABEResPODER is here for you. Take heart - there is light at the end of this tunnel!