A Viable Immunization Is Good News, but Realities Won’t Match Expectations for Many Months
November brought some of the best news of the COVID-19 pandemic: strong evidence that novel coronavirus vaccines currently under development will work. That was never a forgone conclusion. But it is now almost certain that several different effective coronavirus vaccines will become available within the next few months.
Developing a vaccine is just the first step in a long journey toward ending the pandemic, however. Even more daunting tasks await policymakers and health workers after pharmaceutical companies ship the first doses out the door. To eliminate the risk of future outbreaks, as much as 70 percent of the world’s population will need to be immune to the coronavirus—through vaccination or infection and recovery. Given that only an estimated ten percent of the world’s population has had COVID-19 to date (with most infections concentrated in a relatively small number of countries), that leaves an extraordinarily high target for global vaccination efforts. Achieving this will take an astonishing feat of global cooperation, one that may prove more difficult and take much longer than most people realize.
Once it becomes clear that a vaccine won’t mean immediate deliverance from the crisis, there is a risk that popular disillusionment could set in, deepening the creeping skepticism of vaccines in parts of the world and adding to the already formidable challenge of immunizing more than half the global population. Governments must therefore guard against popular frustrations by communicating clearly and tempering expectations—all while pushing forcefully ahead with immunization campaigns to save as many lives as possible.