How the Out-of-Control Pandemic Is Speeding the Hunt for Vaccines

Nov 18, 2020 · 56 comments
Gigi (Oak Park,IL)
This article reports on the impressive efficacy of the new vaccines, but not a word about safety. My understanding is that, in order to be licensed, a vaccine must demonstrate both efficacy and safety. As an extremely vulnerable senior citizen, I am looking for both efficacy and safety before I bare my arm.
TLB (Bucks County, PA)
@Gigi Not to worry; safety always comes first in clinical trials. People always get excited about efficacy and that’s what the reporter focused on. But if study participants were getting sick, experiencing side effects, or dying, THAT would have been the story. So far, so good!
Michael Livingston’s (Cheltenham PA)
So Trump’s “rushing” a vaccine wasn’t so stupid after all.
Wesley Struebing (Dubuque, Iowa)
@Michael Livingston’s Actually, the investigation, experimentation, and development started long before His Nibs "involvement". As soon as the Chinese had the virus sequenced, pharmaeutical companies were on it. Like, back in December. Although I can (sort of) give him credit for throwing more money at the development of a vaccine.
I have had it (observing)
There was no question. Vacinnes were being researched as soon as the virus was mapped 11 months ago. Trump was spewing false information during that time. It was going away by by Easter. Sorry, the man does not get credit for this.
A. Stanton (Dallas, TX)
250.000 Americans have already died of the virus. 291,557 U.S. soldiers were killed in combat during World War II. If current projections for the next few months hold true, Trump may actually succeed in presiding over the deaths of as many Americans as Germany-and-Japan-combined did in World War II
JSW (Pretoria, South Africa)
@A. Stanton The CDC's figures: More than 2.8 million Americans will die this year with heart disease taking 655 000 and cancer 599 000. It seems WWII was small shakes. (I'm not saying anything about the terrible "apocalyptic" disease Covid-19. I am too scared!)
Jay Orchard (Miami Beach)
Just great. Now Trump and his enablers will claim that he deliberately allowed coronavirus to spread because he knew that ultimately it would help vaccines and treatments become available sooner, Look for Trump to seek nomination for the Nobel Prize in Medicine.
I have had it (observing)
I'm going to do what I do with Windows updates. Wait till everyone else uses it to see if it works.
Garrison Finley (Denver)
Accelerate the vaccines and stop the nonsense of extended trials and data examination. We can EUA approve these much faster but we have anti vaxxers who dont want the rest of us to have the vaccine and democrats who want the vaccines to happen on Biden's watch. If your scared wait a few months . Let the rest of us who aren't scared and have had enough of this pandemic to get a vaccine shot now. I'll take my chances - I get a Flu shot every year that only takes manufacturers 3 to 6 months to make 100 millions of doses.
Wesley Struebing (Dubuque, Iowa)
@Garrison Finley Bad, bad comparison. Flus are "well-known" (even new strains have similar characteristics, so those 3-to-6 month developments are all because of YEARS of research. The novel Cornoavirus is brand new, and doesn't behave like other conronaviruses. Work had to being from scratch. As far as wanting your vaccination right now, I'd rather know that the "cure" isn't worse that then disease. There are very sound reasons for those extended trials you call nonsensical.
alan (MA)
First I's like to say "THANK YOU!!" to all the volunteers that participated in the trials for Covid-19 vaccines. Why have the vaccines been produced in record times? Advances in Science and in computer capabilities. The profit motive (need to vaccinate billions of people) doesn't hurt either.
Blue Sun (Florida)
There is a new wrinkle starting to show up. In one of the Scandanavian countries (Finland? Norway?), SARS-CoV-2 virus has mutated and jumped species into sheep. Then, it mutated again and rejumped back into people. The first report was that there were 128 human cases of the new strain. The big problem is that this new strain is sufficiently different that all of the vaccines currently being developed will be useless against it! Many viruses mutate frequently and, like the Influenza strains (mutations) are always staying one or two steps ahead of vaccines. You need to get a flu vaccine every fall at the start of flu season and with several strains of flu emerging every year, the vaccine is usually 20% to 50% effective. Coronaviruses are no different. There are currently 4 different strains of coronavirus that cause the common cold, for example (along with Rhinovirus flu variants). Antibody immunity after a cold only last 1 or 2 weeks. You can ameliorate the symptoms of a cold, but you can't treat it or vaccinate against it. There's an old doctors' joke that goes, "With medical treatment, your cold should last a week. Without, it will only last 7 days. Coronaviruses can stay safe in other animals or birds (reservoirs) only to cross back into humans in different forms. Lethality can differ greatly (the 1918 flu pandemic killed between 50 & 100 million - more than WW I. COVID-19 has now killed more than half as many Americans as died in all of WW II.
AnneBB (Spain)
@Blue Sun It was Denmark & minks.
Baruch (Bend OR)
Covid deaths in the US now exceeds 250,000. I blame Trump. Donald Trump, the man who says "I take no responsibility" is, in fact, one of the world's mass murderers. The fact that "blue" states were denied access to needed medical supplies makes it clear that this is genocide. Trump, Pence, Miller, Kushner and the rest of them should all be put on trial for crimes against humanity.
Jim (Boston)
The worst part of the Covid19 response is how children have been punished. We used to make sacrifices for children, and put them ahead of our own fears. Not any more. Its me,me,me.
Jim (Boston)
The pity is that no one apparently cares that suicides are up 15% to 30% by state due to the lockdowns, guns sales are up by tens of millions, we have lots of new alcoholics, and children out of school. We will pursue this white whale at any cost.
Stefan Ackerman (Brooklyn)
Death don't have no mercy...speeding a vaccine because Trump couldn't care less? This is going to end well, eh? I wouldn't go anywhere near any "speedy trials vaccines"? Surprised the Sackler family ain't in on this scam. 11/18/20 9:11pm.
Kim Narisetti (Brooklyn)
I can’t wrap my brain around only 190 people getting infected and the vaccine being rendered 95 percent safe and effective for the entire world population. And one never knows the side effects until years have passed. I will eventually get the vaccine, but as a New Yorker, I am comfortable wearing a mask, and don’t mind being the 330 millionth person in line.
Bruce Stafford (Sydney NSW)
@Kim Narisetti , I know it sounds odd but the figure of 190 sounds correct. Those who organise clinical studies like this do a "Sample Size Determination" calculation, based on the number of subjects required to achieve a "confidence interval" of 95%, i.e., that the experimenters are 95% sure that the finding hasn't happened by chance. This is the generally accepted P value (or probability statement). The sample size can depend on various other factors and in other studies might be somewhat less or somewhat more than 190. In other cases a 98% confidence interval might be required, meaning an only 0.02% probability that the result happened by chance (chance can never ever be completely ruled out, but you want to make that possibility as small as possible and practical).
Doug Hacker (Seattle)
Using 50,000 as a starting point for the US, achieved with little effort, daily infection rates that exceed this number we add to excess death. Choose one year as an expedited time scale for vaccine development, started in March. Every day that exceeds 50,000 adds to a death toll (100,000 adds one extra day to this toll.) So if we go two months we add two extra months to the death toll. If a vaccine is wide!y available in April that will be six months at high infection rates say 150,000 which adds 12 months to the total of infections considered for comparison to extra lives lost due to poor executive participation in control of The pandemic. It seems that the gain in time for vaccine development because of increased infection rates does not make up for lives lost due to poor executive action.
It's an interesting phenomenon that the more rampant the virus is, the more quickly we can verify a successful vaccine. If we had less spread, we may have had to wait many more months for the trials to complete. The rash of sickness today will get us through all of this sooner. Will we actually end up saving more lives as a result? We certainly will exit the lockdowns and economic pressure sooner.
JimmySerious (NDG)
I trust the healthcare system and my doctors. I've been dealing with them for years. When they say "Vaccine Up!" I'm in. But there have been reports of Trump supporters dying while still refusing to believe it's the virus. Cursing hospital staff who they think are not telling them the truth. The major media needs to stop giving Trump the benefit of the office he holds. Even if it's only for a few more months. They have a responsibility to do a better job of proving Trump's duplicity. He's beating them at their own game. That has to stop. Lives are at stake. Not to mention our democracy.
Cathy (Hopewell Junction N.Y.)
It will takes months for the companies to have enough vaccine to achieve a level close to herd immunity. These vaccines are looking fantastic, but they are hard to make and there are more than 300M of us. It takes about 6 seconds to don a mask, and crinkle the nose into place. Everyone wearing a mask achieves something close to "herd immunity." And masks are ridiculously easy to manufacture and distribute. No mask needs to be refrigerated to Antarctic winter. So tell me, why are people so against the mask? Mask up. It beats having to explain why you chose to be a super-spreader to St. Peter.
Doug Hacker (Seattle)
@Cathy We have 70,000,000 Americans who voted for trump.
nastyboy (california)
We have to hope that people continue their pandemic vigilance and even more people start following protocols until the vaccines arrive in earnest. In the meantime things are quickly spinning out of control with chaos everywhere. The U.S. is gripped with fear of the unknown thinking things will be worse than they were in the spring.
Martin (Germany)
What scientists and pharma companies did was great. But if it would have been something different than SARS-CoV-2 - let's say "airborne Ebola" (like in the movie "Outbreak") - we'd all be dead by now. I therefor fully support the idea of so many scientists and SF-writers: humanity has to become multi-planetary, and quick! Mr. Elon Musk: your turn...
Todd (Los Angeles, CA)
@Martin More Airborne Ebola could kill at higher rates, but infect significantly fewer. The problem with Covid-19 is that people can be asymptomatic and still a carrier, for a long time. A virus that kills you quickly is easy to identify, and thus slow the spread. Of course, as an individual I would rather get Covid-19 than Ebola. But as a species, Covid-19 is a greater threat because it spreads invisibly.
Jim (Boston)
We want our Constitution rights back! The survival rate is > 99% if you even get the virus. When did the Government get to decide the morality? Number of people dead from opioids and suicides is higher than Covid19 dead in most New England states. Who decides who we protect and who gets exposed to increase risks?
Emeritus (Maryland)
@Jim I've been a law professor teaching safety regulation since 1975 . My first publication was on required fire safety and constitutional law. No one has the Constituional right to spread fire or disease to OTHERS. Yes we decide as a democratic society what risks you can impose on OTHERS. Arguably suicide might be a personal right but not Homicide
Jim (Boston)
@Emeritus You are letting the government decide who gets the increased risks, and putting a lot of people at higher risk for death due to lockdowns (alcoholism, all sorts of risk and death profiles for death are going up). I argue the lockdowns and stay-at-home orders are an egregious threat to mine and others safety.
I have had it (observing)
Obviously the people can't make safe decisions, so yes the government needs to.
Emeritus (Maryland)
The death rate from known infection is 1.7% Since Nov 12 we have averaged over 153,000 new infections a day That translates into over 2600 deaths a day in a few weeks .
Marion (Central New Jersey)
please factor in the long term effects that survivors may experience. The proof is in the pudding-compare countries that instituted mask wearing, hand washing, lockdowns vs those that did not. Compare states that did not with those that have. Most (all) of us would prefer not to catch it. To err on the side of caution seems prudent. We buy car insurance because we are mandated to. We do many things we are mandated to in the interest of overall public safety. There’s an old expression: my freedom ends where you’re nose begins. Couldn’t be more relevant now
Bruce Stafford (Sydney NSW)
@Emeritus , and the morbidity rate needs to be taken into account, which too often seems to get glossed over. Possible one of the best known examples of that is Britain's P.M. Boris Johnson, who got very sick from it and took weeks to recover to the point he could resume work. Multiply that by the huge number of U.S. infections each day (admittedly quite a lot mild), and you get a sizeable number of the workforce out of action for several weeks. Think of the hit to the economy of that. Worse, healthcare workers who get sick just have to take time out, leaving an acute shortage of nurses, doctors and allied heath. And they can get quite sick because of the high viral load they can be exposed to.
I have had it (observing)
So Thomas the refrigerator trucks are lining up at morgues for fun?
manfred marcus (Bolivia)
A silver lining, the speeding up of vaccine development...because of the rampant spread and deaths from an ignored viral pandemia? How Trumpian! Did we have to lose so many and sink the economy...before appreciating what we had?
rbjd (California)
Too bad there won't be a vaccine for climate change (the other event a lot of people seem to be in denial about) when that gets out of control.
Doug Hacker (Seattle)
@rbjd It's already out of control.
A. Stanton (Dallas, TX)
Some means should be found for placing people who refused to social distance and wear masks last in line to receive the new vaccines. They were the people primarily responsible for spreading the virus in the first place.
F (Denver, CO)
@A. Stanton In the interest of public health, to the extent that they haven't already been infected, those are exactly the people who need to get the vaccine FIRST to protect others!
NinaMargo (Somewhere In Idaho)
@A. Stanton Unfortunately a story got buried somewhere along the way... in Indonesia, individuals who refused to wear masks were recruited off the streets to dig graves for victims of Covid-19. A reality-check if ever there was one.
I have had it (observing)
As a front line responder, Thomas, I see it first hand. No room in the hospitals.
Emile-Victor (NorCal)
Yes, the more data, the better the statistics. But, there is another aspect to be aware of that has been beneficial to the development of these vaccines. That is the vast change in the processes that are available now. As a clinical microbiologist who worked in the hospital and industrial settings for fifty years, I have seen considerable changes that have resulted in the speedy development of these vaccines. When I first started in the lab field fifty years ago, vaccines and many associated laboratory methods were developed and manufactured through the use of large farms of animals, which were injected with antigens, so they would develop antibodies, which were then harvested. The process was long and laborious. The end products also contained animal proteins, which could cause allergic responses in the recipients. Through the great increase in DNA and RNA synthesis and the ability to analyze the genetic make up of the offending antigens (Corona Virus) and Antibodies. Subsequently, it appears that every thing has been speeded up through genetic amplification and manufacturing techniques. My hat is tipped to all those who, over the years, have developed these processes to the point that they could be used so effectively now.
AKJersey (New Jersey)
Moderna is a small company that has never manufactured or marketed anything. Pfizer is a major multinational pharmaceutical company. The Pfizer and Modern vaccines seem to be functionally identical, except that Modern has developed a trick (patent pending) that permits greater stability without extreme cooling. The extreme cooling for the Pfizer vaccine will make vaccine distribution very difficult. The obvious solution is for Moderna to license its process to Pfizer, which will focus on manufacturing and marketing. This will save thousands of lives in the US and abroad. If this licensing and technology transfer is not done by January, it should be on the top of the agenda of the COVID taskforce under President Biden.
Satya (San Jose)
@AKJersey Yes, and not just to Pfizer. Every drug company capable of manufacturing should be required to do manufactue it.
Gugie (PNW)
@AKJersey Swiss drugmaker Lonza is already signed up to produce Moderna's vaccine.
Ma (Atl)
@AKJersey There are a number of existing vaccines that require very low freezing temperatures for storage. This is not unique. We are able to handle those, as well as countless reagents for testing that also require low freezing storage.
As we are in a season of "giving", wouldn't it be wonderful if we regarded adherence to mask wearing, distancing and heightened hygiene practices as a gift to family, friends and our community. Personal liberty is often being used as a proxy for "I don't care about you".
Will Hogan (USA)
Its my sense that the irrational anti-vaxxer contention that the vaccine is unsafe, and the idea that sensors are injected along with the vaccine, would be particularly effective propaganda measures by Russia or China to hold the US economic recovery back. Despite clear facts that the vaccine is safe and effective. Sounds like many folks in the US are falling for these ploys, wherever they have originated.
Steve Beck (Middlebury, VT)
@Stephan You know, I wonder how many Trump voters felt that things would turn out the way they did. Two that I know well, my wife's BFF and her younger brother voted for the Grifter-in-Chief for selfish reasons - READ GREED. What is so appalling to me is that half the population looked at the Trump Administration and said decisively that they wanted four more years of it.
T.Remington (Harlem)
@Will Hogan Citizens of the USofA have proven themselves more than capable of generating anti-vax and other conspiracy propaganda. Look at the absurd propositions used to justify refusal to accept the results of the election. We have far more to fear from our own political/corporate back-room machinations than any of those misdirecting Russian "meddling" scenarios. We are "America" — and we remain great — maintaining our position as No. 1 in "meddling" around the world!
Stephan (Provincetown)
@Will Hogan I will be waiting for Canada, France, Germany and other countries within intact and trustworthy health departments to make the final call on whether the vaccines are safe. Unfortunately Trump and his ilk have so undermined and politicized the CDC, the FDA, and other regulatory bodies in the US that it’s unclear if they even have the capacity to make an accurate assessment. It may take years to rebuild these institutions.
GDF (novato ca)
States might look at their supply of N95 masks, and if they have a lot of them (California?), they might deploy them to hot spots and to those in high risk for covid. Industrial N95 masks with exhalation ports (which you would cover with your surgical mask to protect others) provide a better fit and are more comfortable than the medical N95. We need at least 500 million. Any vaccine will not move the numbers (as in save lives) for many months. Don't let up. If you find yourself wondering if you can 'get away' with any trip or gathering, don't do it.
Marcia Halio (DE)
@GDF Question: when Moderna and Pfizer and other companies test the efficacy of their vaccines, do they deliberately expose volunteers to COVID-19 to see how it works? If so, I think it's incredible that people volunteer for these studies. I guess they do so to protect others. Bravo to the volunteers!
Blue Sun (Florida)
@GDF - Be more specific about the use of "N95." It refers to 3 different grades of masks. N95 just says the mask is expected to block 95% of the materials *it was designed for*. Almost all N95 masks are "dust" masks, designed only to protect people from sawdust, pollutants, allergens, and other larger particles. "Surgical" N95 masks are used in surgery. They block smaller particles and are used for short terms - one time only - to protect patients from the surgical team and the medical people from dangerous particles from the patient's open body. "Respirator" N95 masks are designed to block particles down to 0.3 microns, larger than the SARS-CoV-2 (which is 0.1 micron), but sufficient to block the larger drops containing the viroids from coughs, sneezes, & heavy breathing. These are the ones used by medical personnel working directly with COVID-19 infected people. There are also N97 masks & even N100 masks (block 99.7% of particles). Note that porous bandanas worn cowboy bandit style are about as useful as a Kleenex & the many other masks are of widely varied construction and porosity - many are even Chinese counterfeits. Almost all of the Halyard - medical-quality surgical masks - for sale on Amazon are counterfeits. Halyard only sells large quantities to legitimate medical establishments. If you are buying a box of 50 masks, they are almost surely fakes. You can take a HEPA-certified bag for older vacuum cleaners & make 4 N95 respiratory masks from its corners.
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