Societies have a long history of fighting infectious diseases, and the History of Vaccines points to evidence that the Chinese employed variolation against smallpox as early as 1000 CE. Since that time, we have had many remarkable medical breakthroughs, including what is considered the first vaccine in the West, Edward Jenner’s use of cowpox material to create immunity to smallpox in 1796. Other examples over the centuries include vaccines for rabies and anthrax by Louis Pasteur, polio by Jonas Edward Salk and measles and mumps and rubella (M.M.R.) by Maurice Hilleman.
Like smallpox and polio, COVID-19 has had a devastating effect around the world. Accelerating the development of a vaccine has been a top priority for both medical and government leaders. Many factors have made it possible to safely fast-track various COVID-19 vaccines. One critical piece is the work scientists have done over the years to determine how mRNA technology could simplify and expedite the vaccine development process. Scientists have also been able to leverage lessons learned from previous outbreaks such as HIV, H1N1 and SARS. Finally, global collaboration within the pharmaceutical community and investments from governments around the world significantly hastened the timetable.
Deciphering the Different Options
Here at Medix, when we discuss COVID-19, our goal is to keep our readers informed on relevant topics, while using science as our guiding principle and always putting people first. We strive to do our part to help keep clients and talent safe and successful. As we enter the next phase of the pandemic response, we want to continue this practice by bringing you the latest information on vaccination development and deployment as it relates to our world of work, which is continuously evolving.
The United States currently has four COVID-19 vaccines in various stages of development, Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Oxford/AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson (Janssen). Having numerous options will help the U.S. ramp up its immunization rollout with the goal of vaccinating the majority of Americans by summer 2021. Here is a quick overview of the different vaccines.
Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on December 11, 2020, and is expected to do the same for Moderna’s version by December 18, 2020. Both of these vaccines were developed with mRNA technology, which according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) “takes advantage of the process that cells use to make proteins in order to trigger an immune response and build immunity to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.”
mRNA vaccines are not live and do not carry a risk of causing disease in the vaccinated person. Two doses are required and both are considered highly effective, with Pfizer at 95% and Moderna at 94.1%. However, both versions need to be kept frozen before being dispensed to protect their components making distribution complicated and expensive.
Oxford/AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson (Janssen)
While not as far along in the process as Pfizer and Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson both hope to seek FDA authorization in February 2021. These are non-replicating viral vector vaccines that use an inactivated virus to help cells produce proteins to activate the immune response without making recipients sick.
AstraZenaca’s vaccine is moderately effective at 70% and requires two doses. Johnson & Johnson’s results are expected to be released in January but initial indications are positive and there is the possibility it will be the first one-dose vaccine. Both are easier to store and less expensive than mRNA vaccines.
Making Sense of the Roll-Out
The vaccine allocation process is extremely complex, and because initial supplies are limited states will need to make hard decisions about distribution. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) released preliminary recommendations prioritizing those most at risk including health care workers and long-term care residents.
The next recommendation will likely prioritize frontline workers, such as law enforcement, teachers and food processors, people 65 and over, and those with high risk health conditions. This population is much larger and immunizations will still be scarce. As a result, expect to see variations from state-to-state. Some leaders may want high-risk individuals at the front of the line, while others may feel frontline workers are essential. Additionally, determining what health conditions qualify as high risk will vary depending on where people live. KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation) has developed a useful chart that links to each state’s prioritization criteria to help companies and individuals stay up-to-date.
Keeping Our Foot on the Gas
It appears the COVID-19 vaccines will be an effective and safe way to bring down case numbers, with the goal of ultimately ending the pandemic. Experts suggest that for the country to be truly protected it needs a 75 to 85 percent vaccination rate. To achieve this goal, business leaders will need to support ongoing health awareness and encourage vaccine literacy in employees, colleagues and others. The good news is that while the public was initially wary of the COVID-19 vaccines, a recent ABC News/Ipsos poll shows that 40% of Americans will get it as soon as it is available to them and another 44% will get it, but wait a bit. In the meantime, it is important to not let our guard down when it comes to practicing existing safety protocols including masks, social distancing, hand washing, testing and contact tracing.
Medix has been helping its clients manage these safety practices since the beginning of the pandemic, placing more than 4,500 occupational health professionals across 178 companies nationwide, and we stand ready to assist with the vaccination phase as well. Our trained clinical health teams are at the ready and can provide much needed support to medical groups, laboratories and pharmacies while our other healthcare services can help companies fill positions ranging from care management specialists to insurance/administrative experts. With thousands of health professionals needed to safely and quickly administer the vaccine nationwide, we encourage teams to act quickly to get the right talent on staff.
Contact your Medix representative today if you are ready to learn more or partner together as we enter this next, more hopeful phase.