It seems likely that the FDA will give emergency approval for the first COVID-19 vaccines in the next 10 days. Here are some common questions that I have been asked:
Q: Has the vaccine been adequately tested?
A: I believe so. There are 2 vaccines (one from Pfizer and one from Moderna) that have been through Phase 1, Phase 2, and Phase 3 trials. The results from the Phase 3 trials are what the FDA is reviewing right now -- and if they agree that the data show effectiveness and safety (including checking for side effects for the 2 months after the vaccines showed effectiveness in blocking COVID-19 infection) then that is when they will give their approval to administer the vaccines. Longer term checking for rare side effects will still have to occur for many months (same as for other vaccines) after the vaccines are used in the community.
Q: Who will get the vaccine first?
A: The first shipment of vaccines that will arrive in Utah will be somewhere around 40,000 doses. Those vaccines will be given to front line workers who are taking care of COVID-19 patients in the hospitals, to frail elderly patients who are in nursing homes (who are both at the highest risk for severe illness and death, and the highest risk for catching it since they live in a group setting), and also the workers who care for those patients. When subsequent doses become available, the state is working out a priority list for other workers and groups who are at high risk.
Q: How long will it be until anyone who wants the vaccine can get it and how will I know that I can get the vaccine?
A: We seem to be on track for the first doses in the next few weeks and then some additional larger number of doses in January that will still be for high risk groups. And then it will (likely) be spring before there are enough to offer them to the community at large. When we get close to that, there will be information from the state and on the news regarding which groups may get the vaccine and where they can go to get them. It is also important to remember that these vaccines are so far tested only in adults, so we are many months away from having a vaccine that is tested for use in children.
Q: Will the state require people to get the vaccine even if they don't want it?
Healthcare facilities (like Intermountain and the U of U) may -- similar to what they do with other contagious conditions -- require individuals who work for them to get the vaccine.
Q: How long does immunity last after getting the illness and how long does it last after getting the vaccine?
A: We have evidence that immunity for those who catch the illness lasts at least 6 months, and for the vaccine we have evidence that goes out at least 2-3 months. Both of those are limited by how long we have been able to measure -- and with the passage of each additional month we will be able to describe the length of immune protection better (and we are hoping it turns out to be long term for both).
Q: Is it better to become immune by getting the illness or by getting the vaccine?
A: It is better to become immune by getting the vaccine because you don't run the risk of going to the hospital yourself and you don't run the risk of passing the virus on and injuring someone else you care about.
Q: Do I plan to get the vaccine?
A: You bet.
Q: Where can I get other reliable information about the vaccines?