Even a successful COVID-19 vaccine might not end the pandemic

Despite optimism that a COVID-19 vaccine could be developed in the next year or two—or, if Operation Warp Speed works, perhaps by the end of 2020—it may not be enough to end the pandemic.

Medical experts are warning even if a vaccine is developed in that time frame, it’s possible labs won’t be able to manufacture enough of the vaccine to establish herd immunity.

At least 70% of a population must be immune for herd immunity to exist, according to scientists at Johns Hopkins. Medical experts say it may take years to produce enough of the vaccine to achieve herd immunity, and efforts could be hindered if development is not approached globally.

More than 100 COVID-19 vaccines are in progress, and at least six are being tested, according to Nature Research. Health experts are already warning a nationalistic approach to developing a vaccine won’t be effective. Auctioning off the vaccine to the highest bidder may not be the most effective way to establish herd immunity and could take longer to drive down COVID-19 cases.

The World Health Organization is working to test vaccines globally to find the most effective ones and prioritize distribution to establish herd immunity. This could mean healthcare workers worldwide could receive a vaccine before general populations, according to Nature Research.

But it might be a while before the pre-pandemic way of life can return.

As Johns Hopkins wrote in April, “The physical distancing measures needed may vary over time and will not always need to be as strict as our current shelter-in-place laws. But unless we want hundreds of millions of Americans to get infected with [the coronavirus] (what it would take to establish herd immunity in this country), life is not likely to be completely ‘normal’ again until a vaccine can be developed and widely distributed.”

Sources: Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Washington Post, Nature Research, Business Insider

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