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On Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention informed state public-health officials that they should begin planning to distribute a coronavirus vaccine as early as late October or early November. According to the New York Times, the documents were sent out last Thursday, on the same day that President Trump gave the closing address of the Republican National Convention, in which he said that a vaccine could be in circulation before the end of the year.
The documents “outlined detailed scenarios for distributing two unidentified vaccine candidates, each requiring two doses a few weeks apart, at hospitals, mobile clinics and other facilities offering easy access to the first targeted recipients,” according to the Times. The CDC recommended that health-care workers, essential workers, and national-security employees would be the first to receive the doses, while seniors, Native Americans, the incarcerated, and people from “racial and ethnic minority populations” would also be prioritized due to higher rates of transmission in these groups. The CDC stated there were two vaccine options being considered in the distribution plans, and though they were not named, they match the technical details of the vaccines being developed by Pfizer and Moderna, which are the farthest along of any candidates in U.S. clinical trials.
While a vaccine would be an immeasurable benefit in a nation in which over 184,000 people have died from COVID-19 and millions more have been forced into unemployment, the rollout of a vaccine will present an immense challenge — as previewed by the Trump administration’s failures to secure and distribute PPE and testing in the first months of the pandemic. Another major concern is the potential of a vaccine rushed for political gain by a president who has politicized public-health processes all year. “This timeline of the initial deployment at the end of October is deeply worrisome for the politicization of public health and the potential safety ramifications,” infection prevention epidemiologist Saskia Popescu told the New York Times. “It’s hard not to see this as a push for a pre-election vaccine.”
Regardless of the timeline for distribution, the United States is now running a solo race for a viable vaccine, while most other nations are working together to develop a product to control the pandemic. Yesterday, the Trump administration announced it would not join a collaborative effort among 170 countries in the development of a vaccine — either because the White House was confident in the two American candidates or because of the involvement of the Trump-derided World Health Organization in the search.