President Donald Trump said on Friday morning that the U.S. currently has 2 million vaccines for the novel coronavirus ready to be deployed. “We have over 2 million ready to go if it checks out for safety,” Trump said at a press conference.
This is misleading at best. In order to properly fact check this statement, however, we need to unpack it.
Sources have not yet verified whether the U.S. government actually has 2 million vaccines in its possession. Supposing it does, it’s going to be a long time until they can do anything with them. As Trump has noted, scientists first need to prove the vaccines’ safety, which is necessary before giving them to anyone outside of a clinical trial. In other words, “ready to go” is a gross over-exaggeration. Even if the vaccines are safe, there is no guarantee that they are effective.
Proving safety and effectiveness are the two main goals of clinical trials — and it takes an average of 10 years to develop a vaccine and get it through those trials, according to a new report from the medical journal The Lancet. The all-time record is 4 years. The timeline could be shorter for the COVID-19 vaccine. Earlier this week, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he hopes the U.S. will have a couple million doses of a vaccine by the beginning of 2021. Though experts are optimistic we will have this vaccine in record time, Fauci’s hope too may be unrealistic, according to the New York Times.
Trump also did not identify which company’s vaccine the government has at the ready. The U.S. government has identified the 5 companies most likely to produce a successful COVID-19 vaccine, the Times reported on Wednesday. However, there are 10 candidate vaccines currently in clinical trials, according to the report from The Lancet.
Of course, if Trump’s mystery vaccine does work — and this would be fantastic news, there’s no way around that — there is no guarantee of how long it will provide immunity for. It probably won’t be long, Fauci said in an interview with Howard Bauchner, editor of the medical journal JAMA. “When you look at the history of coronaviruses, the common coronaviruses that cause the common cold, the reports in the literature are that the durability of immunity that’s protective ranges from three to six months to almost always less than a year,” Fauci said. “That’s not a lot of durability and protection.”
Life won’t go back to normal until we have a vaccine and enough people get immunized to cause herd immunity. In other words, a lot of hope is riding on that vaccine but even when we get it, we will need to exhibit patience, something that, understandably is in short supply — from the highest office to your average citizen.