Vaccine Rollout

The COVID-19 vaccines are proving more effective in general use than they were in early tests. The next challenge is to make them available to the public — and to manufacture them in that kind of volume.

Early tests showed that the vaccines were 85 to 95 percent effective. Some countries launched vaccines without having a clear sense of how effective they would be. Now that millions of people have been vaccinated, the effectiveness is higher than it looked initially. Perhaps it is around 99 percent. The stories of vaccinated people who got seriously ill from COVID-19 are few and far between — and this in a disease that continues to kill by the thousands among people who are not vaccinated.

Vaccine effectiveness was not a sure thing for a streamlined vaccine technology that had been considered experimental a year ago. It is a victory for this particular branch of science and engineering.

As well as the vaccine works, it works only for the people who can get it, and it is virtually not available to the public anywhere. With so few doses available, only selected high-risk groups have been vaccinated. Other high-risk groups have been turned away — and while low-risk patients are being encouraged to apply, there is no sign so far that those applications go anywhere.

There is also the important question of children. Vaccine trials are only now being completed for adolescents, with results similar enough to the results for adults. The picture is less clear for children under 12, and a great deal depends on how those tests come out.

None of that minimizes the value of vaccinating the working-age population, roughly between 13 and 69 years of age. Protecting workers from a deadly illness means that the world can continue to function.

No vaccine has ever been ramped up so quickly, but the effort is not without precedent. Every year the flu vaccines for the northern and southern hemispheres — which by nature have to be new every season — go from testing to mass distribution in about four months. Flu vaccines are more familiar but are in some ways more complicated than coronavirus vaccines.

There is urgency in rolling out the vaccines, as the pandemic shows few signs of slowing down. There have been more cases since mass vaccination began (at a trickle) in December than there were before that point. Case counts should fall rapidly after vaccination levels pass 50 or 60 percent, but at this point, that is nowhere in sight.

In my county, several public vaccination clinics have been announced, but only one has opened, and it is not yet open to the public. That can be done on short notice, but first, the vaccine doses have to be delivered, which means manufacturing volumes have to be higher. Things are moving along, but it is anyone’s guess how quickly any given threshold or benchmark can be reached.

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