The news this week about the BioNTech-Pfizer coronavirus vaccine is reason for rejoicing. In Phase 3 clinical trials, close to 44,000 people have been given the vaccine and now Pfizer has determined that among 94 patients in the study who came down COVID-19, only nine had received the actual vaccine and the rest the placebo — a number that translates to over 90 percent effectiveness for the vaccine.
This effectiveness is far greater than anyone anticipated and this is a moment to marvel at the speed and accuracy of our newer techniques of vaccine science. The BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine employs a genetic messenger (messenger RNA) to make the coronavirus’ telltale surface spike protein that then triggers the immune system to make antibodies and T cells against the virus.
But instead of celebrating a great moment for vaccine science, several key opponents of the current administration have actually come out and undermined the new vaccine, at the worst possible time because public compliance is by no means assured.
Keep in mind that the Pfizer vaccine involves two doses, given three weeks apart, and it must be kept at 112 degrees below zero with the help of dry ice or liquid nitrogen. Plus, the vaccine must be given within a day of being taken out of cold storage.
We need all hands on deck to support this and other vaccines through the Food and Drug Administration emergency approval process and subsequent distribution around the country. Any glitch or delay is sure to be magnified by our large population of vaccine doubters.
It was wrong for President-elect Joe Biden to state that “a mask remains a more potent weapon against the virus than the vaccine.”
While a mask is clearly quite useful at decreasing viral spread — especially in conjunction with social distancing and rapid COVID-19 testing — only an effective vaccine that might bring us to herd immunity can stop this highly contagious virus in its tracks.
Choosing a mask over a vaccine is politics, not science.
Far more disturbing was New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s response to the new vaccine. Cuomo said in an interview this week that it was “bad news” that the Trump administration will plan the vaccine’s distribution.
Cuomo actually discussed speaking to other governors about altering or even blocking President Trump’s plan. If Cuomo succeeds, he could delay a potentially lifesaving vaccine for months.
Plus, the governor’s statement ignores the fact that Pfizer has spent months developing a plan to distribute the vaccine immediately on approval, and has been working closely with Army Gen. Gus Perna, chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed.
Perna, who spent his entire career supervising military supply lines, was tapped by President Trump to run Warp Speed two months before retirement.
The general said in an interview on “60 Minutes” broadcast on CBS Sunday night that as soon as the FDA emergency approval comes he will execute and distribute the first batches of the vaccine within 24 hours. There is no reason not to believe him. Operation Warp Speed is working with FedEx, UPS, and the large pharmaceutical supply firm, McKesson.
Perna has indicated that the goal is to distribute tens of millions of doses of the vaccine by the end of the year, and hundreds of millions of doses by spring. He paints a much rosier picture that does Gov. Cuomo or President-elect Biden.
Operation Warp Speed has also developed a computer software program called Tiberius to track the vaccine distribution and make sure the cold chain is maintained.
When it comes to deciding who is right about the state of vaccine and the prospects of delivering it into high-risk people’s arms by the end of the year, I would choose the military and its record of efficiency over a politician every time.
In addition, the Biden administration will have every chance to distribute the vaccine to groups that may have been overlooked in the initial distribution. In the meantime, we need to get a successful vaccine into people’s arms as soon as possible.
Choose a general over a governor when you want to travel at warp speed.