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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The first coronavirus vaccine may arrive soon, but it’s unlikely to be the knockout punch you may be hoping for.

Why it matters: The end of this global pandemic almost certainly rests with a vaccine. Experts caution, however, that it’s important to have realistic expectations about how much the first vaccines across the finish line will — and won’t — be able to accomplish.

Where it stands: Work on a coronavirus vaccine is moving at an unprecedented pace. There are nearly 200 candidates in development, 27 are being tested in humans and a handful are already in an advanced phase of clinical trials.

  • Each new bit of positive news out of that effort makes the pie-in-the-sky best-case scenario — that one of these products will prove out and win at least an initial nod from the FDA by early next year — seem more plausible.

Yes, but: First-generation vaccines often aren’t the ones that stop a new virus in its tracks, and experts’ hopes for an initial coronavirus vaccine are much more modest.

  • “Right now, we just need something that's going to mitigate the damage this virus causes,” said Amesh Adalja, an infectious-diseases expert at Johns Hopkins University. “Maybe it doesn’t prevent you from getting infected, but it prevents you from getting hospitalized, or prevents you from dying … that would be huge.”

How it works: Some vaccines, like the one for measles, mumps and rubella, produce near-complete and long-lasting immunity. Others, like the annual flu shot, are important tools to help contain a virus but don’t achieve “sterilizing immunity.”

  • It's not yet known how much protection any of the potential coronavirus vaccines might provide, or how long it would last.
  • "It's hard to make vaccines against coronaviruses," said Mark Poznansky, an infectious-disease specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital. "It doesn't mean its not possible but it is a challenge, especially with COVID-19, where we don't yet understand the inflammatory response to the virus and what part of the immune response is critical to prevent infection."
  • While the initial evidence for COVID-19 vaccines seems promising, second- and even third-generation products will likely target more of the virus and, hopefully, generate stronger and longer-lasting immunity than the first few vaccines will offer, Poznansky said.

Vaccinating enough people to get safely back to our old, communal habits will also pose more practical challenges.

  • Even with a jump start on manufacturing, which is happening now, there won’t be enough supply, at least at first, to address the sheer scale of a global pandemic. So we need some kind of system to distribute the global supply, and then to prioritize who in the U.S. gets our doses.
  • And if distrust in a vaccine stops large numbers of people from getting it, then the U.S, may not achieve the "herd immunity" that prevents widespread outbreaks.

Two of the leading candidates — drugs under development by Oxford University and the U.S. biotech firm Moderna — require patients to get two shots.

  • So if you want to vaccinate 300 million people, you’ll need 600 million doses. And getting 300 million doses will already be a tall order.

The bottom line: Even after a vaccine becomes available, the coronavirus may still hang around, infect and even kill people. The numbers would just be lower.

  • That may not be what the quarantine-weary public is imagining, but experts say it’s a realistic expectation — and would be an incredible step forward.

Go deeper: A vaccine reality check from an ex-CDC director

Go deeper

Nov 4, 2020 - Sports

NFL steps up coronavirus protocols with new mask requirements

A view as the Baltimore Ravens play against the Washington Football Team at FedExField in October in Landover, Md. Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The NFL sent a memo to teams on Tuesday alerting them to stepped-up precautions against COVID-19, including on face masks and social distancing, the NFL Network first reported.

The big picture: As coronavirus cases surge across the U.S., the Baltimore Ravens placed seven defensive players on the reserve/COVID-19 list Tuesday following cornerback Marlon Humphrey's positive test. Under the new protocols, the NFL will require masks be worn during physical interactions postgame and is advising teams to ask players to wear face coverings on the sidelines and in locker rooms.

Go deeper: Most NFL games had fans this week

Updated Nov 10, 2020 - World

In photos: Coronavirus restrictions grow across Europe

A waiter stands on an empty street in downtown Lisbon on Nov. 9, after Portugal introduced a night-time curfew for 70% of the population, including the capital and also the coastal city of Porto. It'll last for at least two weeks, per the BBC. Photo: Patricia De Melo Moreira/AFP via Getty Images

Portugal and Hungary have become the latest European countries to impose partial lockdowns, with curfews going into effect overnight. Governments across the continent are imposing more restrictions in attempts to curb COVID-19 spikes.

The big picture: Over 9.2 million cases have been reported to the European Centre for Disease Control. Per the ECDC, France has the most (almost 1.8 million) followed by Spain (over 1.3 million) and the United Kingdom (nearly 1.2 million). The COVID death rate per 100,000 of the population is highest in the Czech Republic (25), followed by Belgium (19) and Hungary (10.4).

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