With pandemic fatigue in full swing, most everyone wants to return to normal. But without a coronavirus vaccine, the risks of returning to work and school outweigh the benefits. Now, all eyes are on the latest developments as the world waits for a vaccine to be approved. While there are several top contenders, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States has yet to issue approval to any one of them.
The UK Leads the Vaccination Charge
The first Western country to approve a coronavirus vaccine for emergency use was the United Kingdom. Created by Pfizer and German company BioNTech, the vaccine is expected to be administered in early December 2020. First doses of the Pfizer vaccine will be sent to healthcare workers, nursing home residents, and individuals over age 80. To distribute the vaccine, 50 different hospitals throughout the UK have been chosen as “vaccine hubs.” The UK government has ordered 40 million doses, enough to vaccinate 20 million people.
Why Hasn’t the United States Approved the Pfizer Vaccine?
The FDA is slightly more rigorous and cautious in some ways than health regulators in the UK. Unlike in the UK, where health regulators rely on summaries from the companies to determine vaccine effectiveness, the FDA performs its own data analysis before making a decision.
This additional verification process will likely add about one week to a vaccine approval timeline. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are expected to meet with FDA approval sometime in December, but even so, no states are likely to get enough vaccines to inoculate their first priority group (which includes long-term care residents and healthcare workers on the front lines).
How Many Doses Could Be Available?
Federal officials in the United States estimate that around 40 million doses of the vaccine might be available if both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines meet FDA approval. However, since one person needs two vaccines, this would only be enough for about 20 million people, nowhere near enough. Even that threshold might not be met either, as Pfizer only expects to have around 6.4 million doses ready by the middle of December. Now, states are being forced to choose which healthcare workers are the highest priority. For the general population, the wait could be even longer. Most experts don’t expect vaccinations to be available to the general population until as late as February or even March.