Two vaccines for the coronavirus are close to seeking permission for emergency use in the United States, and more are in the works. But the vast majority of Americans would have to receive a vaccine for an age of mask-clad faces and social distancing to become a thing of the past, public health experts said Tuesday.
“I would think at least 75%,” White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said Tuesday during the DealBook Online Summit presented by The New York Times.
The most recent polls, however, are showing that far fewer people around the globe plan to take the vaccine.
“We’re not there yet in terms of the public intent based on a lot of the global surveys. That’s a bit below that. It’s more 50 or 60%. Depends on the country. It’s actually quite variable across countries,” Heidi Larson, an anthropologist and the director of The Vaccine Confidence Project, said in a later panel discussion with the Times’ Andrew Ross Sorkin.
Those polls were conducted before Pfizer announced last week that it had developed a vaccine that appeared to be more than 90% effective, and Moderna said Tuesday its vaccine appears to be 94.5% effective. Local pulmonologist Dr. Ahammed Hashim said the results “look very promising, actually they look great.”
And when it comes to polls, the public wants to know that vaccines are effective and safe before making a commitment, Larson said.
“We’re about to rerun a lot of surveys because this will change. This will change how people think. So I think there is hope,” Larson said.
The message of safety also needs to come from local officials, clergy and trusted members of communities, not just from far away health experts.
“We learned a lot with the polio eradication initiative about getting as local as you can, and really … listening,” she said.”In some cases it’s the religious leaders. Somewhere else it might be the teachers.”
A Dallas Morning News/UT Tyler poll in October indicates that about half of Texans said they would take the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available. Around 27% said they would not take a vaccine, and the remainder expressed no opinion.
Supplies to inoculate 75% of the world’s population might take well into 2021 to produce. Pfizer says it expects to produce 50 million doses — enough to to inoculate 25 million people — by the end of the year. Around 1.3 billion doses are expected in 2021.
“The demand will be so big that it’s going to be … injected in hours rather than days or weeks,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said during the forum.
Both vaccines have different cold storage temperatures. The Pfizer vaccine must be stored at nearly 100 degrees below zero, and engineers have designed a shipping container to keep the vaccine fresh, Bourla said.
Pfizer has faced criticism from President Donald Trump, who said he felt the company delayed an announcement on the vaccine until after the Nov. 3 election.
“Some want us to move faster. Some want us to move slower. What I’m going to tell you is we’re going to move at the speed of science, which is what we did,” Bourla said. “I predicted we’d have efficacy results by the end of October and many people told me it’s too soon and complained. Then I announced first week of November, many people told me it is too late. It is what science does.”
The Pfizer vaccine is funded in part by tech billionaire Bill Gates. The Moderna vaccine is funded in part by county music star Dolly Parton, who donated $1 million to Vanderbilt University for research early in the pandemic.
Gates’ involvement has fueled baseless conspiracy theories, saying the Microsoft co-founder will use the vaccine to implant unwitting patients with tracking devices. Parton hasn’t faced any such rumors.
“I’m surprised at the conspiracy theories. I think I’m supposed to make it clear they’re not true,” Gates said. “But where does that come from? Is it because these are uncertain times? People prefer a simpler story than the biological stenosis that took place? I hope it fades away because we’re just trying to play a constructive role.”
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been a major player in research and distribution of vaccines around the world. Gates acknowledges the work is “relatively obscure” and not often publicized in the United States.
“Malaria has gone from the rich countries. TB is very limited. Even HIV is largely contained,” Gates said.
He’s holding out hope that conspiracy theories fade and new polls show more confidence in taking a coronavirus vaccine.
“People do want to protect themselves. They do want to protect their parents and grandparents,” he said. “I hope we’re surprised on the upside by the demand for the vaccine.