Coronavirus vaccines: Your questions answered

Dr. Anthony Fauci shares some words of hope as the holiday season approaches and offers advice on how to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

Posted: Nov 18, 2020 5:00 AM
Updated: Nov 18, 2020 5:00 AM

There is sorely needed good news on the vaccine front: A second US vaccine has been found to have a high success rate against Covid-19. Moderna announced on Monday that its vaccine was 94.5% effective against coronavirus, according to early data.

Vaccinations could begin in the United States in the second half of December, starting with high-risk groups and becoming available for the rest of the population in spring, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Here are some answers to common questions about the coronavirus vaccines being developed to prevent Covid-19.

Don't vaccines take years to develop safely? How have these two been developed in just 10 months?

Most vaccines in use today have taken years and, in some cases, decades to develop, but governments have poured huge amounts of money into companies and institutions developing vaccines, with initiatives like Operation Warp Speed in the United States and the Vaccine Taskforce in the United Kingdom.

The pandemic has galvanized the scientific community all around the world, with groups of researchers in dozens of countries on a fast-paced hunt to understand how the virus works.

Operation Warp Speed has also drawn up protocols to allow trials to proceed more quickly, and industrial-scale manufacturing of the vaccines has taken place before we knew whether they would be effective. This means we have millions of doses ready to be used.

How effective is this vaccine?

The vaccine developed by Pfizer, which announced its early successful results last week, and Moderna's are both more than 90% effective, according to the early data, a higher rate than many vaccines for other diseases. However, the results are extremely preliminary and aren't what health authorities will use to authorize vaccines.

In Moderna's trial, 15,000 study participants were given a placebo, which is a shot of saline that has no effect. Over several months, 90 of those people developed Covid-19. Another 15,000 participants were given the vaccine, and five of them developed Covid-19.

Among those receiving a placebo, 11 became severely ill, but none of the participants who received the vaccine became severely ill.

The head of the International Vaccine Institute has hailed biotech company Moderna's early data on its Covid-19 vaccine candidate, saying it is "proof of concept," but cautioned that it's still early days in terms of follow-up efficacy.

"I think it's really great news and in a way confirmation that the RNA vaccines are able to protect against infectious disease and it is also a good example again that Covid vaccines are a possibility," Dr. Jerome Kim, the institute's director general, told CNN on Monday.

"It will be really important to know what efficacy is - not at two months, but at six and twelve," Kim said.

There are still lots of unknowns about how the new coronavirus vaccines would work in practice. It's not clear whether they would prevent infection altogether or make severe illness less likely. Doctors also do not know how long their protection will last.

However, Fauci described it "as good as it gets." He had said previously he would settle for a vaccine that was 70% to 75% effective.

Vaccines have various efficacy rates. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a full round of polio vaccines is 99% to 100% effective; full vaccination against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis is 80% to 90% effective, while the efficacy of flu vaccine varies from year to year.

How safe are the vaccines, and are there any side effects?

Moderna said its vaccine did not have any significant side effects. A small percentage of those who received it experienced symptoms such as body aches and headaches. It's similar to what people might experience after a flu shot and is a sign the vaccine is working to create an immune defense.

"They report no safety concerns - the main side effects are injection site pain, fatigue, muscle or joint aches and pains and headache which seemed to occur more frequently after the second injection," Dr. Penny Ward, a visiting professor in pharmaceutical medicine at King's College London, told the SMC.

"Clearly we still need to see the complete scientific details in a publication to be able to judge the outcomes independently."

After a vaccine is approved for emergency use authorization in the US, the CDC will continue to monitor side effects and assess whether any are a safety concern that warrants a change in recommendation.

How do these vaccines work? I'm worried they sound experimental.

Vaccines typically mimic part of the virus they protect against, prompting a response from your immune system.

The vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer both use a new approach that hasn't resulted in an approved vaccine before -- although they have been studied in clinical trials for other viruses.

The two vaccines use genetic code rather than any part of the virus itself, with a technique called messenger RNA, or mRNA. The vaccines deliver mRNA, which is a genetic recipe. In this case, the genetic recipe directs cells to make pieces of the spikes that sit atop the coronavirus. Once it's injected, the body's immune system makes antibodies that recognize these spikes. If a vaccinated person is later exposed to the coronavirus, those antibodies should stand at the ready to attack the virus.

The fact that Moderna and Pfizer have independently produced very similar results using the same technique is a vote of confidence in the genetic technology, experts said, and their results could make it much easier and quicker to produce other vaccines.

"Using this technology, vaccine candidates can be produced substantially faster in the future to combat virtually any infectious disease, by producing vaccines against both existing pathogens and future, currently unknown pathogens," Zoltán Kis, research associate at the Future Vaccine Manufacturing Hub, Imperial College London, told the SMC.

Other companies are developing vaccines using other techniques -- the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is made from a harmless modified chimpanzee virus, while the traditional route is to use the inactivated virus.

Sign me up! When can I get it?

While Fauci said he expects the first Covid-19 vaccinations to begin toward the latter part of December, initially there won't be enough vaccine for everyone. The highest-priority groups, which include health care workers, the elderly and people with underlying medical conditions, will get the vaccine first.

"I think that everybody else will start to get vaccinated towards the end of April," Fauci said. "And that will go into May, June, July. It will take a couple of months to do."

The British government has asked the National Health Service, known as NHS, to be ready to deploy a vaccine from the beginning of December.

What if I'm old, pregnant or clinically vulnerable?

Among the 30,000 participants in the Moderna trial, more than 7,000 Americans were over the age of 65, the company said. It also included more than 5,000 Americans who are under the age of 65 but who have high-risk chronic diseases that put them at increased risk of severe Covid-19, such as diabetes, severe obesity and cardiac disease.

The study also includes more than 11,000 participants from communities of color, representing 37% of the study population, which Moderna said was similar to the diversity of the US population. This includes more than 6,000 participants who identify as Hispanic or Latinx, and more than 3,000 participants who identify as Black or African American.

Noubar Afeyan, the co-founder and chairman of Moderna, said the company doesn't see "any difference in the results," among the subgroups in its Covid-19 vaccine trials.

"Moderna actually slightly slowed down the trial recruitment to ensure that we had a substantial representation, and it turns out, 37% of our trials were people, were subjects, that are considered of color," Afeyan said on CNN International Monday.

"Generally, it looks like the vaccine performs broadly across all the population groups," Afeyan said.

However, we don't know anything about groups not involved in the trial such as children or pregnant women.

"Urgent questions remain to be answered, including how long these vaccines will be effective for and whether these vaccines work across different populations, in all age groups, ethnicities, and those with prior health conditions," said Charlie Weller, head of vaccines at medical research charity Wellcome.

"Only upon trial completion will we be able to assess the full efficacy and safety of any vaccine candidate."

Will the vaccines be compulsory? What happens if I decide not to get vaccinated?

Some people will see it as their patriotic duty to get vaccinated, but others may not. The UK has said it won't make it compulsory, and Fauci has said that getting the vaccine likely won't be mandatory.

If you decide against getting a vaccination, it does have wider implications. Not only will you not have protection against Covid-19, but it could potentially make it harder to achieve community, or herd, immunity. This protects high-risk groups that might not be able to get the vaccination.

It is estimated that a Covid-19 vaccine will need to be accepted by at least 55% of the population to provide community immunity, according to the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and some scientists anticipate even higher numbers will be needed.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 441935

Reported Deaths: 5885
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin918591461
Ramsey39405729
Dakota32551324
Anoka30638354
Washington19827221
Stearns17686184
St. Louis13453237
Scott1178693
Wright11485101
Olmsted1024870
Sherburne812364
Carver686636
Clay643278
Rice595266
Kandiyohi551069
Blue Earth533833
Crow Wing476573
Otter Tail449860
Chisago446331
Benton414885
Winona383946
Douglas370366
Nobles364646
Mower358026
Goodhue340757
Polk326754
McLeod321644
Morrison308743
Beltrami305746
Lyon298735
Itasca281143
Becker279438
Isanti279440
Carlton276942
Steele26879
Pine263813
Freeborn237219
Todd230029
Nicollet222136
Brown212334
Mille Lacs211645
Le Sueur206515
Cass203823
Meeker197433
Waseca187515
Martin168226
Wabasha16712
Roseau164916
Hubbard146937
Redwood138527
Renville136139
Houston133213
Dodge13134
Chippewa130632
Cottonwood125118
Fillmore12084
Wadena118214
Rock108511
Sibley10757
Aitkin106633
Watonwan10548
Faribault103214
Kanabec96818
Pennington95915
Pipestone92522
Yellow Medicine92514
Murray8585
Jackson84510
Swift82617
Pope7355
Marshall70115
Stevens6968
Clearwater68114
Lac qui Parle65216
Lake62215
Wilkin6179
Koochiching57910
Lincoln4771
Big Stone4513
Unassigned43568
Grant4247
Norman4218
Mahnomen4077
Kittson36619
Red Lake3154
Traverse2433
Lake of the Woods1741
Cook1130

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 300884

Reported Deaths: 4197
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk44949440
Linn17563269
Scott15228161
Black Hawk13552228
Woodbury12896175
Johnson1191749
Dubuque11229148
Pottawattamie8863112
Dallas874169
Story857433
Webster464768
Cerro Gordo458766
Sioux452451
Clinton445461
Warren430637
Marshall424561
Buena Vista389029
Muscatine382275
Des Moines377340
Plymouth347967
Wapello336796
Jasper315955
Lee310828
Marion298852
Jones268949
Henry262130
Carroll252233
Bremer240048
Crawford227622
Boone214116
Washington213531
Benton207543
Mahaska189936
Jackson189631
Tama184757
Dickinson183225
Delaware171136
Kossuth169241
Clay165319
Wright161724
Fayette157022
Buchanan156920
Hamilton156828
Hardin153129
Harrison152961
Winneshiek150819
Clayton149848
Cedar149119
Butler145423
Page143115
Floyd137236
Cherokee137125
Mills135216
Lyon133132
Poweshiek131024
Hancock127924
Allamakee125927
Iowa122122
Calhoun12159
Jefferson118623
Grundy118522
Winnebago117229
Madison11639
Mitchell114634
Louisa113729
Cass111741
Chickasaw110111
Sac110115
Emmet109931
Appanoose108838
Union107922
Humboldt103919
Guthrie102124
Shelby101026
Franklin99818
Unassigned9370
Palo Alto8969
Keokuk84225
Montgomery82722
Howard81119
Monroe79918
Pocahontas77211
Clarke7717
Ida73530
Greene6837
Davis68221
Adair68120
Lucas6458
Osceola6349
Monona62316
Taylor5889
Worth5873
Fremont5005
Van Buren49112
Decatur4744
Ringgold4229
Wayne41321
Audubon4118
Adams2923
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