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News of a promising COVID-19 vaccine is thrilling, but we can’t let down our guard

Pharmaceutical firm Pfizer is touting its potential vaccine as 90% effective. All the more motivation, as we wait for its arrival, to do what we can to fend off the virus now.

This May 4, 2020, file photo shows the first patient enrolled in Pfizer’s COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine clinical trial at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.
This file photo from May shows the first patient enrolled in Pfizer’s COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine clinical trial at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.
University of Maryland School of Medicine via AP

Americans woke up Monday to the terrific news that a safe and highly effective vaccine against COVID-19 may well be closer than ever.

The potential for a vaccine that is perhaps 90% effective against coronavirus infection was especially welcome on the day after our country reached a terrible milestone: 10 million coronavirus cases.

It was cause for celebration, just as America celebrated the election of a new president who will take the pandemic seriously and develop a plan to rein it in.

But while America welcomes the news, the country cannot let down its guard.

It will be months, even in a best-case scenario, for a vaccine to become widely available to the public. So we must redouble our efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19, as President-elect Joe Biden reminded us Monday after a meeting with his newly formed coronavirus advisory board.

Biden, of course, cheered the news of a potential vaccine. But he also warned of a “dark winter” if we don’t follow the guidance, outlined time and again, of public health experts.

“We could save tens of thousands of lives if everyone would just wear a mask for the next few months. Not Democratic or Republican lives, American lives,” Biden said after the meeting. “Please, I implore you, wear a mask.”

To which we add, practice social distancing, and avoid social and family gatherings if you can, no matter how tempting in the approaching holiday season.

If we do that, we can begin to turn the corner on this pandemic while we await a vaccine that isn’t likely to become widely available until late 2021.

Pfizer, the pharmaceutical firm that announced the news about its vaccine on Monday, still has several hurdles to clear before it can begin distribution. It’s worth noting, though, that 10 other vaccine candidates are in late-stage clinical trials as well.

Experts caution that no matter how promising Pfizer’s findings appear to be — and even the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, called the results “extraordinary” — the findings are based on early data that has not been peer-reviewed.

And Pfizer, which plans to seek emergency authorization for the shot from the Food and Drug Administration, still must submit two more months’ worth of data on vaccine safety before applying for FDA approval. That’s another hurdle.

Additionally, manufacturing and shipping will be a challenge. A full dose of the vaccine, which must be shipped and stored at minus-94 degrees Fahrenheit, requires two shots — which means hundreds of millions of doses to vaccinate most Americans.

And plenty of Americans are skeptical about a vaccine, which worries us as much as anything. No shot works unless people get it.

We may see some light at the end of the tunnel, but the fight against coronavirus is nowhere near over.

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