MRIGlobal Scientist and COVID-19 Viruses

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COVID-19 Vaccine Timeline

Human Health In Vitro Diagnostics Pharmaceutical Sciences

COVID-19 Vaccine Timeline: Updated December 17, 2020

COVID-19 COUNTDOWN: MRIGlobal virologist predicts what’s next in the fight against COVID-19

With recent news of vaccine approvals in the United Kingdom and looming on the horizon in the US, there’s renewed hope that an endpoint for the COVID-19 global pandemic is in sight.  

So what can we expect from this point on?

“No one has a crystal ball to predict exactly how everything will unfold going forward,” says MRIGlobal virologist Gene Olinger. But based on his experience and what we know at this time, Dr. Olinger is sharing updates on how the COVID-19 vaccine timeline is predicted to play out, and potential hiccups along the way. 

COVID-19 Vaccine Development & Approval

  • Moderna, another pharmaceutical company, is also applying for EUA with its  mRNA-1273 vaccine and is scheduled to meet with the FDA on December 17. Source
  • Vaccines can be released within 24 hours once EUA approval is granted. Operation Warp Speed – a partnership of several federal agencies – is overseeing the development, manufacturing and distribution, therapeutics, and diagnostics of the vaccine.  Expect first vaccinations to occur on December 11.
  • Pfizer and Moderna will apply for full licensure (the completion of Phase 3 in the approval process) sometime around February 2021. 
  • Anticipate EUA approval of at least three other COVID-19 vaccines in April. Initially, vaccines will not be available to high-risk groups such as those who are pregnant, under 12 years of age, or undergoing chemotherapy. Studies are under way to prove safety.


Production and Distribution of the COVID-19 Vaccine

  • Scaling up for mass production of the unprecedented levels of vaccine required can create new challenges, such as procuring adequate production materials and recruiting and training specialized workers. 
  • The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has issued recommendations on a vaccine distribution plan. Front line health care workers, long-term care facility residents, and high-risk individuals will be among the first in line. 
  • Up to 20 million people will be vaccinated by the first of January. This will mostly consist of healthcare workers, long-term facilities, and some high risk individuals. Anticipate 50 million vaccinated by February. 
  • Vaccines are expected to become available to the general population in March or April. Up to 30 million people will be vaccinated per month, with a total of 100 million vaccination by late April or early May.  Greater than 330 million doses will be needed for the US 
  • States will have final say in distribution; allocation by state will be based on population size. Early on, there will be limited options on vaccine preference.
  • Distribution logistics will vary. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines make use of messenger RNA, a fairly new technology that requires frigid storage conditions during transportation and prior to distribution. Few vaccination sites or hospitals are equipped with specialized cold storage equipment. Operation Warp Speed and the manufacturers will be focused on this issue during the next few months. 
  • Vaccination will require each person to receive two doses 3-4 weeks apart. Johnson & Johnson and others are working on a one-dose vaccine. Study data on its efficacy is expected in early 2021. 
  • Vaccines are expected to be free. A plan to cover administrative costs is in development. Distribution may take place at major vaccine events at stadiums, gyms, doctors’ offices, and chain drug stores across the country. 


Going Forward

  • Current daily death rates are 2,500-3,000 per day. Death rates will increase exponentially with an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 deaths daily in late December through February. Though we know more now about how to treat Covid-19 than we did in March, the Case Fatality Rate (CFR) will decline, but the high numbers of cases will lead to many more hospitalizations and ultimately more deaths. The CDC estimates 450,000 deaths by February. Hospitals will continue to be overwhelmed with the COVID-19 patients through March.  Vaccine uptake will be critical. 
  • A vaccine needs to be 80% effective with 75% of people receiving it to achieve herd immunity – the threshold of vaccination needed to protect the population from virus. It is a high bar, but the data so far indicates it is achievable.
  • Expect ups and downs along the way. The news will be a roller coaster of good and some not-so-good news as potential production and distribution issues arise.  Anticipate that adverse events will be reported and highlighted, even if some perceived issues cannot be directly linked to the vaccine administration. Anti-vaxxers – those who oppose vaccination – will likely seize the opportunity to disrupt the vaccine rollout process. 
  • Transmission may still occur. Vaccines seem to prevent severe illness, but we’re unsure if they prevent infection. That means we’ll need to continue wearing face masks and social distancing, probably through early 2022. 
  • We can expect COVID-19 to circulate like the flu in the future. We may need an annual booster vaccination for full protection. Virus transmission significantly reduces mid to late summer! 
  • Schools will be in full swing next fall, maybe with masks and some social distancing.  Travel will pick back up during the summer. Expect entertainment venues (concerts, athletics, and gatherings) to resume in the summer, again with some social distancing and mask wearing for best protection.
  • Fingers crossed, we could return to normal – with caveats – by the holidays next year. Family gatherings will be encouraged and welcomed. 

“It’s amazing to reflect how far we’ve come since the genetic code for this virus was identified on January 11, 2020,” says Dr. Olinger. “What traditionally could take up to 10 years was achieved in 11 months. In that short time rapid diagnostics, better clinical care and promising treatments, and multiple vaccine candidates have been developed and deployed. Science prevails!” 

From the beginning, MRIGlobal has been engaged in fighting the COVID-19 outbreak, applying its vast expertise in diagnostic testing, bio-security and mobile lab design and deployment for our commercial and government partners.

Learn more about our COVID-19 capabilities.

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