Today’s entry: CDC stats U.S seasonal 2017-2018 influenza deaths 79,400 with 50 million infected. Flu vaccine (effective) rate of 44%. Like the flu, COVID is mutating (additional strains) thus the continual narrative that a vaccine is the answer is doubtful based on science. Your thoughts?
Bottom Line: Your question and inference are on point. It’s unlikely a COVID-19 vaccine will be a panacea for dealing with the virus. It’s why having effective treatment options are important, arguably more important than a vaccine. HIV is the most visible example of the importance of effective treatment options in this regard. Prior to effective treatment options, HIV was a rather quick death sentence for those who contracted it. That’s no longer the case.
It’s been a while since I’ve addressed this topic, so I’ll run through a few points. Viruses inherently don’t have cures because they mutate. Any virus has the potential to meaningfully mutate in as few as 15 days. The first studied version of COVID-19 outside of China, began the first week of January after a December 31st diagnosis. As of now, it’s possible that as many as 11 meaningful mutations have taken place just since January. Vaccines chase constantly moving targets and that’s why, to your point, they’re generally not effective for most people.
According to CDC data, this year’s flu vaccine was 45% effective. That’s actually better than average. Over the past ten years, the most effective vaccine was 60%, the least was 19% and the average has been 43%. The most common form of the flu this year was the H1N1 virus. It was first diagnosed in 1918 and 102 years later we are still less than 50% effective in predicting its next mutations. That’s a healthy dose of reality when it comes to what we might be looking at for a COVID-19 vaccine. We’d have to get pretty lucky to expect a COVID vaccine to perform better than the flu vaccine out of the gate. That doesn’t mean it’s all bad news.
Even if a vaccine were only around 40% effective, reducing the impact of the virus by 40% is a huge help. Additionally, it’s possible, even likely that certain strains of the virus will be less severe than others, as is the case with the flu. This could open up the possibility of multiple vaccines being made available and/or strategies like targeting the deadliest strain, knowing that even if the lessor strains spread it’s manageable. While I’m concerned about what’s going on with the increase in cases right now, I’m still optimistic that the collective genius of medical science being applied to this virus will produce solutions to minimize the impact sooner than later.
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