SAN ANTONIO – As we near the close of a year that’s been defined by infection and social distance, there is some hope.
The news of successful vaccine developments comes as COVID-19 cases across the U.S. and in San Antonio are rising.
While there is a light at the end of the tunnel, medical experts are warning we are not in the clear yet.
Vaccine development and distribution are just part of the puzzle. Another essential piece is battling disinformation and convincing enough people to get the vaccine.
In this week’s episode of KSAT Explains, we looked at the science behind these vaccines, spoke with medical experts about their safety and got a better understanding of what it will take to end this pandemic.
What we know about the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines
Despite global efforts to find a COVID-19 vaccine, medical and health experts warned everyone that it could take a while.
The previous record for vaccine development was four years. But in early November, the world received welcome news.
Pzifer and Moderna had developed a vaccine that showed promise in clinical trials, but they were different from vaccines that had been developed in the past.
Their vaccines are what’s known as MRNA vaccines. It’s an approach that has not been used in humans before, however, researchers have been studying and working with them for decades.
The federal government approved the use Pfizer’s vaccine on Dec. 11 while the Moderna vaccine was expected to be approved around Dec. 17.
Dr. Ruth Berggren, an infectious disease specialist with UT-Health San Antonio, and Dr. Douglas Denham, Chief Medical Director at Clinical Trials of Texas, explained how the vaccines work and why this process can be effective.
Medical experts who spoke to KSAT Explains stressed we are still learning about these vaccines and this is just the start.
A question we asked is does the vaccine prevent people from spreading the virus or just from becoming infected?
“We still don’t really know how well it’s going to protect people. You can still get an infection and maybe not be as infectious, not have the full symptoms that you would get otherwise,” said Denham.
San Antonio-based Texas Biomed Research Institute worked with the Pfizer vaccine in animal studies.
Dr. Larry Schlesinger, President and CEO of Texas Biomed, said in their clinical trials the vaccine protected 100 percent of the animals from COVID-19. But even so, there was still a little virus detected in the nose of these animals.
“It just depends on how powerful the vaccine is in terms of virus, particularly virus in what we call the upper airways, the nose in the mouth where people cough out,” said Schlesinger.
While the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines will be the first to be distributed, there are more than 100 others in the pipeline.
COVID-19 vaccine and children
The initial stages of vaccine distribution is underway, but a group not expected to get approval for use any time soon is young children.
Pfizer included children 12 years of age and older in some of their later trials and Moderna also recently announced they would begin to incorporate children over 12.
But pediatricians around the country and in San Antonio have said this is a cause for concern.
COVID-19 vaccine distribution timeline in Texas
Developing effective COVID-19 vaccines was a challenge, but it wasn’t the only hard part. Getting millions of people vaccinated will be monumental task.
Texas is expected to receive roughly 1.4 million doses to start. Bexar County alone has a population of around 2 million.
We broke down what the distribution plan is in Texas and who is first in line to get the vaccine.
Are these vaccines safe?
Developing and distributing the vaccine are two significant moves in the right direction to end this pandemic. But enough people need to be willing to get the vaccine to stop transmission.
While the speed the vaccines were developed is unprecedented, it isn’t unexplainable.
These vaccines were built upon prior science that can be traced back to February 2003 when SARS was first identified. Still, a question a lot of people have is are these vaccines safe?
We answer that question and dive into the fear many medical experts have about disinformation with the vaccines.
When will this pandemic end?
This is the million dollar question. The answer is complicated because it relies on science and the actions of everyone.
The vaccine is currently voluntary so it remains to be seen how many people choose to get vaccinated.
“Some of the most recent estimates are that 40 to 50 percent of the population has said they won’t take the vaccine,” said Denham. “So if 40 to 50 percent of the patients don’t take the vaccine, then we’re not going to be able to eradicate this very quickly.”
Doctors say patience will also be key in determining how long immunity lasts, whether it’s through a vaccine or an actual infection.
“That’s a question I think we all want to know. I think there’s reasonable optimism that if there is some level of protection for even months, six months, a year or two years, as opposed to lifetime or five or 10 years, that’s still going to have a major positive effect on reducing transmission rates,” said Schlesinger.
We take a closer look at the challenges ahead even with a vaccine in the picture.