The welcome news that a COVID-19 vaccine now under development appears to be far more effective than initially hoped is a much-needed burst of good news as the pandemic gathers force in Minnesota and across the nation.
But the announcement does not mean it’s time to cast aside face masks or other precautions. Nor is it accurate to say that COVID is now “cured,” as Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, irresponsibly posted on Twitter.
The positive results shared by Pfizer are encouraging but come with important caveats. One is that the numbers aren’t final. While the pharmaceutical giant says its vaccine is more than 90% effective in preventing COVID in those who haven’t been infected, these are interim results. The trial remains ongoing.
It’s also important to understand that a COVID vaccine, when it becomes available, will prevent the disease in those who haven’t been infected. But it’s not a treatment for those who are severely ill with it or those who have been infected and potentially face long-term complications.
In addition, Pfizer’s data was shared via a news release instead of in a more rigorously reviewed medical journal. Still, the early data is promising, and the company “plans to ask the Food and Drug Administration for emergency authorization of the two-dose vaccine later this month,” the New York Times reported. The company estimated that it will have manufactured enough vaccine by January to immunize 15 million to 20 million people.
In the meantime, Minnesota’s Michael Osterholm is warning that that the nation is “about to enter COVID hell.” Disease metrics here and elsewhere back him up. Daily cases nationwide topped 130,000 this week, a 14-day change of 64%, according to the New York Times’ COVID tracker. Deaths rose 18% over the same period.
Osterholm, who heads the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, was named to President-elect Joe Biden’s COVID task force earlier this week. The advisory group includes other respected scientists and public health experts. The Trump task force should cooperate with the new Biden group. The nation needs the new team to get a running start. The Trump administration also shouldn’t give up fighting the virus during the transition.
The best defense for individuals remains the low-tech tools of social distancing, face masks, hygiene, limiting family gatherings and getting tested right away if you develop symptoms. Gov. Tim Walz’s decision on Tuesday to turn the COVID “dial” back to more restrictive settings for bars and gatherings was also smart.
The Pfizer vaccine’s early success enhances the value of these common-sense safeguards. This is no longer just about spacing out infections to prevent maxing out hospital capacity. Instead, buckling down until there’s a vaccine could stop people from getting infected altogether. That’s important when many COVID survivors, even those with mild infections, report troubling symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, joint pain and memory lapses months afterward.
The encouraging news from Pfizer, as well as the promising progress made by other companies developing COVID vaccines, is a reminder of the remarkable work underway by the world’s doctors and scientists. They merit our gratitude as the finish line looms. The best way to thank them: taking individual actions, such as wearing a mask and restricting family gatherings, to stop COVID from gaining even more strength.