On Tuesday, November 30, biopharmaceutical firms BioNTech and Moderna applied for approval of their respective COVID-19 vaccines in the European Union (EU), The Wall Street Journal reports. National Geographic says the EU is expected to conclude Pfizer’s assessment by December 29 and Moderna’s by January 12. Both Moderna and Pfizer Inc. also applied for emergency usage of their vaccines in the United States at the end of November, though it is unclear when a decision will be made. According to Vox, these approval requests came days after Moderna released results of a 30, 000 person study, confirming the vaccine to be 94.1 percent effective. This result corresponds to that of the initial study, in which the vaccine was 94.5 percent effective. High efficacy means that less people will have to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity, which will slow down the spread of the virus significantly.
Despite the recent vaccine developments, there are many questions surrounding herd immunity and whether it can be obtained through vaccination alone. Experts from the World Health Organization have indicated that 65 to 70 percent of people would need to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in order to reach herd immunity. Additionally, a recent study shows that only 50 to 60 percent of countries’ citizens are in favor of being vaccinated once their government approves a vaccine, something that may impact the population’s ability to achieve herd immunity.
As COVID-19 continues to claim lives around the world, several companies are racing to develop a vaccine for the virus as efficiently and effectively as possible. However, many experts warn that it will take many more months until most of the population can have access to a vaccine.
Although the virus has infected more people in the U.S. than in any other country, Europeans are searching just as actively for an effective vaccine. With a larger and denser population, European countries are more economically interdependent on each other. While lockdowns have limited the spread of the disease, they have crippled the tourism and hospitality sectors.
In the last two weeks, COVID-19 cases surged in Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, and other countries. Over the upcoming winter months, it will be crucial for states to maintain control over the spread of this disease. However, many predict a rise in new cases is imminent due to ill-advised future gatherings for Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
The race to a vaccine strongly favors rich nations over middle and lower income nations. This sets countries like Brazil, which has the third most total cases in the world, at a disadvantage. While Brazil has a population of 210 million, only 98 million people will be vaccinated based on current estimates. This does not cover enough people to achieve herd immunity, and Brazil will likely have to longer than the U.S. and Europe for enough supplies to become available.
Of the billions of doses AstraZeneca, Pfizer, and Moderna are expected to produce, three-fourths have already been pre-purchased. As the UK is the first country to approve the Pfizer vaccine and place an order for 40 million doses, pressure has increased on the rest of the world to start securing remaining supply, according to the Associated Press.
With all the adrenaline coursing through the news cycle, Moderna Chief Medical Officer warns that people should not “over-interpret” the vaccine test results and expect life to return to normal after vaccines start being distributed, Business Insider reports.
It is important to point out that while vaccines are effective at preventing severe sickness from occurring, they do not necessarily prevent someone from spreading the disease to others. This means that current health measures such as masks, sanitization, and social distancing will remain crucial to re-opening the economy and returning to normal life.