Jun 24, 2020 - Health

The pandemic isn't over yet, despite vaccine optimism

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Countries around the world and the global economy are desperately waiting for a coronavirus vaccine, and experts say there is a chance one will become available in record time.

The state of play: We really need it to come through, especially in the U.S. — where we're not doing so great on anything else. The spike in cases we're seeing across the South and Southwest is not simply the result of more testing. All indications are that it is the result of a worsening outbreak.

  • Infections are rising nationwide. In several states, they're breaking one-day records. Hospitalizations are also up — seven states have hit a record number of COVID-19 hospitalizations this week, per the Washington Post.
  • Deaths are so far not following this upward trend. But they are, obviously, one of the outcomes after a person tests positive and gets sick. So there's every reason to believe death numbers will rise again. And over 120,000 people have already died.
  • And progress does not seem to be forthcoming. The Trump administration has at least considered lifting the federal emergency declaration for the virus, part of which is set to expire next month, the L.A. Times reports.

What's next: "I believe it will be when, and not if," Anthony Fauci, the director of the NIH's infectious diseases center, told a House panel about a vaccine yesterday.

  • Fauci reiterated the ambitious timeline he's laid out before — human trials for one potential vaccine will begin this month, others will follow soon, and a product could be available to the public by the end of the year or early 2021. That would be record-breaking speed.
  • It's possible, he said, because of the willingness to accept the financial risk of scaling up manufacturing for products that may not work, just to be ready for the one that does.

That raises the question: Who gets a vaccine first?

  • "We can assume that a country is going to try to control a vaccine that's developed in its country, and give it to its citizens first," medical ethicist and health policy expert Zeke Emanuel said yesterday on the "Axios Re:Cap" podcast. That could be good news for the U.S., which has a stake in several American companies' vaccine candidates.
  • But if, for example, China gets there first, it could "months or years" before anyone else gets a crack at that product, Emanuel said.
  • "We need a different approach other than, 'Me, me, me, me, me; my country, my country,' because that's not going to be wise either — for restarting the economy; for travel, for example, and for not having the coronavirus come back and infect the country," he said.

The bottom line: We may think we're through with the pandemic. But the pandemic isn't through with us.

Go deeper