Those of us pinning our hopes for a return to “normal” on a COVID-19 vaccine may have to wait until late next year, Robert Redfield, M.D., director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told lawmakers in his Congressional testimony today.
Although a COVID-19 vaccine could be available by the end of the year in limited quantities, Dr. Redfield said it likely wouldn’t be available widely until next spring or summer, NPR reports. So for now a mask is still “the most important, powerful public health tool we have,” he said. “I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine.”
It takes time for pharmaceutical companies to develop, test, and distribute a new vaccine, SELF explained previously. And although they’re developing many vaccines globally right now, having the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approve a vaccine by the end of the year is still a best-case scenario.
Even after the FDA approves a vaccine, the vaccine won’t immediately become available to everyone. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) is already working on figuring out which groups should get the vaccine first, which will likely include health care workers, people with underlying conditions that make them vulnerable to severe COVID-19 complications, and people in certain racial groups that the coronavirus still affects disproportionately. So, as Dr. Redfield said, a safe and effective vaccine probably won’t be available to the general public until later in 2021.
Plus, as Dr. Redfield notes, even an FDA-approved vaccine likely won’t offer 100% protection against the coronavirus. Right now we don’t know how effective it would or wouldn’t be, but the FDA says it would consider authorizing a vaccine that protects or reduces the severity of COVID-19 in at least 50% of the people who get it.
While we wait, it’s crucial to remember that we do already have effective ways of preventing the spread of COVID-19 at our disposal. That includes public health strategies such as wearing a mask, social distancing, and frequent hand-washing. Even when we have a vaccine, the need to keep up those behaviors won’t disappear overnight, SELF-explained previously. And as we head into the fall, remember that Dr. Redfield previously urged the public to get their flu shots to help reduce the burden of the flu on the medical system.