One (relatively) good piece of news, though, is that people won’t necessarily be stuck in an indefinite state of lockdown, Megan Scudellari writes for Nature. She notes one June report on 53 countries, compiled by a team at the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College London, that suggests that personal behavioral changes such as hand-washing and wearing masks have helped stem the tide of infections in some places even as lockdowns lift. Another study concluded that if at least 50 percent of people are cautious in public — if they wear masks, wash their hands and avoid large gatherings — social-distancing measures could be gradually eased every 80 days over the next two years without overwhelming hospitals or causing a new peak in cases.
Waiting (and waiting) for a medical mediocrity
Over the past few months, the arrival of a coronavirus vaccine, whenever it happens, has become synonymous with resolution, the herald of a near-immediate return to prepandemic life. But as Carolyn Y. Johnson writes in The Washington Post, that scenario is very far from the likeliest one. “The declaration that a vaccine has been shown safe and effective will be a beginning, not the end,” she says.
That’s because no vaccine is 100 percent effective, and only some confer lifelong immunity. Whereas the measles vaccine, one of the best at preventing disease, is 97 percent effective and has to be administered only twice, influenza vaccines are on average about half as effective and have to be administered every year. For a coronavirus vaccine to meet the Food and Drug Administration’s approval threshold, it will have to prevent or reduce severe disease in only 50 percent of people who receive it. That’s why, as one expert in drug development put it to Ms. Johnson, “the first generation of vaccines may be mediocre.”
What would a “mediocre” vaccine do? As Sarah Zhang writes in The Atlantic, it might limit Covid-19’s severity without entirely stopping its spread. That could still be a great help in suppressing case rates and saving lives, but according to the experts Ms. Zhang spoke with, it would not make the virus simply disappear. “For context, consider that vaccines exist for more than a dozen human viruses but only one, smallpox, has ever been eradicated from the planet, and that took 15 years of immense global coordination,” she writes. “We will probably be living with this virus for the rest of our lives.”
But as Dr. Dhruv Khullar argues in The New Yorker, an exceptionally effective vaccine is not the only way to get the virus under control. The public, he says, has been trained to think of the coronavirus like polio, which was eradicated in the United States after a “silver bullet” vaccine was introduced in 1955. But the path the coronavirus takes could end up being more similar to that of tuberculosis. Like polio, tuberculosis ravaged the United States in the 1900s, but it has no comparable vaccine, and was instead beaten back incrementally with an array of imperfect medical advances and public-health strategies.
“Unless you have a perfect vaccine, which very few are, you’ll always have people who end up getting sick,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the federal government’s top infectious disease expert, told Dr. Khullar. “With or without a vaccine, we’re going to need other treatments.”