The news isn't all bad.
On Monday, the first doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine arrived. Some of Oregon's healthcare workers have already received their first shots. More will follow in the coming weeks. With a second "booster" dose, the vaccinated should have strong protection from the virus.
We're not sure whether to say "finally" or "so soon?"
Vaccines aren't typically developed this quickly. It's a development process that usually takes at least a few years. (For some infectious diseases, like HIV/AIDS and malaria, we're still waiting for an effective vaccine.)
But hasn't this year felt interminable? Businesses have suffered, events and activities have been canceled or indefinitely postponed, and too many Oregonians have lost loved ones — well over 1,000 dead and counting — despite Oregon having among the most effective coronavirus responses in the country. For many of us, it's not uncommon anymore to spend days on end at home, only going outside to walk the dog, get the mail or perhaps go for a short jog.
It's sobering to think what the national mood would be like if the first vaccines had failed their trials, or other hurdles had sprung up to push the development timeline back. And while we've been critical of the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic — as well as our own state lawmakers' Hamlet act on critical issues like evictions and tax deferrals — we are gratified that Operation Warp Speed appears to have been a rousing success.
Read the Oregon Capital Bureau's story from Dec. 14, 2020, on the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine to hospitals in Oregon.
We didn't tamp down the virus as effectively as we should have, there are still too many hospitals across the country that are at risk of being overrun, and there is still a vocal minority of people who seem to firmly believe that they shouldn't have to do their part during the worst public health crisis in a century. But we do have a vaccine in record time. We'll take it.
The actual deployment of the vaccine still poses a significant challenge.
Well over half of American adults will need to be vaccinated in order to achieve "herd immunity," and that will be important given that trials for this vaccine suggest up to one in 10 people who are inoculated may still be able to contract the virus if they are exposed. That's still a very high level of effectiveness — much higher than, say, the flu vaccine — but it underscores the importance of suppressing this virus completely. The virus also isn't yet cleared for minors, who have a much lower risk of complications but can still get sick. Herd immunity matters because everyone should be protected.
This vaccine also has a couple of logistical issues to factor in. For one, it needs to be kept in cold storage, which limits the number of sites that can safely store it. (Thankfully, a few days of refrigeration outside those freezing-cold conditions seems to be OK, meaning it can still be viably distributed.) For another, it requires a second dose weeks after the first one. Those receiving vaccines need to be sure to receive both doses to have the highest level of protection.
And remember, there's not yet enough vaccine to go around. Frontline healthcare workers are being prioritized, along with the medically vulnerable. Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has been a leader of the federal coronavirus response — and is expected to remain at the helm after President-elect Joe Biden takes office next month — said this week that Americans without preexisting conditions will likely receive their first shots in late March or early April.
So, while the arrival of the vaccine is great news, and the end is now clearly in sight, we have a ways to go yet. This isn't time to get complacent. Do your part now, so that you and as many others as possible have the opportunity to get that vaccine this coming spring and end this pandemic.
And to those who are getting the vaccine now: Congratulations and thank you. We owe so much to the healthcare workers — doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, nursing assistants, paramedics, orderlies, pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and more — who have worked tirelessly to provide Oregonians with vital care, at times under extreme duress, and always in an environment with an elevated level of risk. There is no question they deserve to be first in line for the vaccine, especially since hundreds of healthcare workers across the country have lost their lives in the battle against COVID-19. The safety of these workers is crucial to the safety of all of us.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.