This week, President Trump claimed once again that the United States population would have a vaccine for COVID-19 well before election day. This time, Trump promised that the vaccine would be distributed by mid-October, and that the U.S. government had made all of the supplies necessary and that by the end of the year, health officials would be able to distribute at least 100 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of this year. He was sure of this, adding “I don’t think it’s going to be too much later than that.”
However, contradicting his claims, Dr. Robert Redfield of the CDC spoke under oath to Senators at a hearing and said that the vaccination distribution would begin in November to December. From December on, he added, it would take nearly six to nine months to get everyone across the country vaccinated (keep in mind that there are nearly 330 million people living in the United States and that the vaccine will most likely be in two doses, making logistical challenges of distribution much greater). Redfield added that regular life was on the horizon — but wouldn’t be a reality until the end of 2021.
When Trump was told of this, he refuted Redfield’s claim, saying that the CDC director, who is most likely the most in the know about vaccination trials, production, and distribution plans over the next nine months, must have made a “mistake when he said that.” But the only difference between Trump and Redfield’s comments is that Redfield seems to have a sense of how long it will take to vaccinate the entire country, and President Trump is hanging on to the first round of vaccinations, seeming to believe that the first 100 million vaccinations will be the hurdle to jump.
The President is incorrect and Dr. Redfield is right — even on the most aggressive timeline, with two doses and over 300 million Americans, it will take months and months in order to vaccinate the entire population. And even then, the first round of vaccines will probably go to front line workers and elderly Americans who are most at risk for contracting and dying from COVID. It’s not impossible, but even on that timeline, the vaccine has limitations. Namely, the vaccine will not be like a polio vaccine, most likely, and instead will be much more like a flu shot — a vaccine that limits the seriousness of the flu but does not completely eliminate the disease — meaning that even after all vaccines are administered, COVID-19 will be a part of our daily lives. And, the problem of vaccine administering supply, like glass vials and needles, is a hurdle that the government still has to overcome — they’ll need hundreds of millions of clean needles and vials.
Infrastructure needs to be propped up around the distribution of the vaccine itself so that people can actually access it. There is still a chance, per one Atlantic report, that we could have hundreds of millions of vaccine doses and no way to give them to the people, as there is no modern federal mechanism to largely distribute a vaccine — it will most likely be done through state and local health departments, meaning that some areas may have more trouble accessing the vaccine than others. And then there’s the fact that only 42 percent of Americans have said they would take the vaccine, according to a recent poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation, a number that falls far short of the necessary 60 to 80 percent immunization rate that would be needed to suppress the worst effects of the virus.
Even if all of the above problems were answered, and even if Trump is correct and the first 100 million doses began to roll out in October, it would still take another half of a year, at least, to fully immunize the rest of the population. That’s not to say it’s not necessary. It absolutely is. But a vaccine won’t be the silver bullet that will save us all — at least not immediately.