COVID has dragged on for what seems like forever, but with multiple vaccines in later stages of development, it seems that there might finally be light at the end of the tunnel. However, as painful as it is to consider, the world must recognize that the ‘tunnel’ could be an active train passageway, and the failure to notice an oncoming train obviously has serious consequences. That may be a silly metaphor, but a large-scale blunder after the rushed testing of a COVID vaccine would be anything but humorous. Vaccines undergo months of testing to ensure their effectiveness and safety, and the process of ‘returning to normal’ after a vaccine’s distribution will be gradual. Throughout this entire ordeal, humanity must demonstrate patience.
Although maintaining hope is crucial in times such as these, the world should acknowledge that a few more months of clinical trials will be required before a vaccine can even be considered for approval – and after that, distribution will occur in stages. With this tiered approach in mind, high school students as a whole will not – and should not – be among the first groups to receive vaccinations. After health care workers, those with underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk are next in line. This approach is approved by the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. Predictably, it places young adults, who are overall less susceptible to severe health consequences from the virus, in the later phases of tiered vaccine distribution. Although it is difficult to advocate for a plan that places one’s own population lower on the priority list, stepping back and recognizing what is ultimately most beneficial for the whole of society will be the best way forward.
Of course, the first stages of tiered distribution will not occur until a vaccine passes clinical trials. At the current stage of the vaccine’s development, the best application of patience involves not rushing researchers – and subsequently the Federal Drug Administration – to create and approve a safe vaccine. Vaccines themselves can be developed relatively quickly, but the trials that they must undergo are intentionally lengthy. Despite advances in medical science, researchers have not yet determined how to increase the speed at which the human body responds to a vaccine. Undesirable reactions, such as inflammatory or fatigue conditions, may develop weeks, months or even years after a vaccine is administered. Granted, these only occur in a minute percentage of cases, and this number decreases further as time progresses. However, with a target population as large as the entire planet, a small percentage becomes quite significant. Overall, allowing COVID vaccines to undergo proper clinical trials will result in the safest and most effective outcomes for the whole of humanity.
When a vaccine does emerge, mask-wearing and social distancing will have to continue for a few months, at minimum, until a sizable portion of the population is vaccinated. Once again, patience is key. Halting social distancing and masking measures before the population reaches vaccine-induced “herd immunity” could cause another outbreak, which is the last thing that countries want when the light at the end of the tunnel seems so close within grasp.
Understandably, the world, and specifically the countries that have relapsed in terms of their control over outbreaks, desires normalcy. However, losing patience anywhere along the process of vaccine development and distribution could be detrimental for the health of thousands – or even millions – of people across the globe. Eventually, there will be a light at the end of the tunnel, but humanity must be careful not to stumble in its pursuit of it.