And while Pfizer’s vaccines are already streaming to Great Britain, Canada and the United States, it’s unclear when they will arrive in other countries. Mexico could get its first vaccines anytime in the next 12 months, according to an announcement.
Clemens Auer, a chief negotiator for the European Union, said in an email that his contract with Pfizer for 200 million doses came with a “fixed delivery schedule,” but that he kept the details to the public. “Details don’t really matter,” he said, given the number of promising vaccines the EU had received.
In Canada, the government has raised questions about its contract with Moderna. The country got an agreement for 20 million doses in August, with an option for an additional 36 million. The United States announced a deal for up to 500 million doses shortly after, and Britain and the European Union announced their own deals last month.
As the distribution of a coronavirus vaccine begins in the US, here are answers to some of the questions you may be wondering about:
- If I live in the US, when can I get the vaccine? While the exact order of vaccine recipients may vary by state, medical providers and residents of long-term care facilities are likely to come first. If you want to understand how this decision comes about, this article will help you.
- When can I return to normal life after being vaccinated? Life will only return to normal if society as a whole is given adequate protection against the corona virus. Once countries have approved a vaccine, they can vaccinate at most a few percent of their citizens in the first few months. The majority of the unvaccinated will still remain vulnerable to becoming infected. A growing number of coronavirus vaccines offer robust protection against illness. But it is also possible for people to spread the virus without even knowing they are infected because they experience only mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. Scientists do not yet know whether the vaccines also block the transmission of the coronavirus. So for now, even vaccinated people will have to wear masks, avoid crowds indoors, and so on. Once enough people have been vaccinated, it will be very difficult for the coronavirus to find vulnerable people to infect. Depending on how quickly we as a society reach that goal, life could begin to approach almost normal by the fall of 2021.
- If I have been vaccinated, do I still need to wear a mask? Yes, but not forever. The two vaccines that may be approved this month clearly protect people from getting sick with Covid-19. But the clinical trials that produced these results were not designed to determine whether vaccinated people could still spread the coronavirus without developing symptoms. That remains a possibility. We know that people who are naturally infected with the coronavirus can spread it while not experiencing a cough or other symptoms. Researchers will study this question intensively as the vaccines hit the market. In the meantime, even vaccinated people will have to see themselves as potential spreaders.
- Will it hurt? What are the side effects? The Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine is given as an injection into the arm, like other typical vaccines. The injection will be no different from the one you received before. Tens of thousands of people have already received the vaccines and none of them have reported any serious health problems. But some of them have felt momentary discomfort, including pain and flu-like symptoms that usually last for a day. After the second admission, people may need to plan to take a day off from work or school. While these experiences are unpleasant, they are a good sign: They are the result of your own immune system encountering the vaccine and developing a powerful response that will provide long-lasting immunity.
- Will mRNA Vaccines Change My Genes? No. Moderna and Pfizer vaccines use a genetic molecule to boost the immune system. That molecule, known as mRNA, is eventually destroyed by the body. The mRNA is packaged in an oily bubble that can fuse with a cell, allowing the molecule to slip in. The cell uses the mRNA to make coronavirus proteins that can stimulate the immune system. Each of our cells can contain hundreds of thousands of mRNA molecules at any given time, which they produce to make proteins themselves. Once those proteins are made, our cells shred the mRNA with special enzymes. The mRNA molecules that our cells make can survive for only a few minutes. The mRNA in vaccines is designed to withstand the cell’s enzymes for a little longer, so that the cells can make extra virus proteins and trigger a stronger immune response. But the mRNA can take up to a few days to be destroyed.
So when Moderna recently said the first 20 million would go to the United States, Canadian politicians were accused of their country losing its place. It was not widely known that Moderna had promised the Americans the first doses as a condition of receiving US funding.
Erin O’Toole, the Conservative leader of the Canadian Parliament, filed a motion requiring the government to provide fulfillment dates for its orders, saying that citizens “deserve to know when to expect each vaccine type.”
Doses can be promised, but production is not guaranteed
Even if other promising candidates, such as Johnson & Johnson’s, receive approval soon and put pressure on Pfizer and Moderna, there is no guarantee the companies will be able to meet their commitments next year.
“People think, just because we’ve shown in phase 3 clinical trials that we have safe and effective vaccines, that the taps are about to be fully turned on,” said Dr. Richard Hatchett, head of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness, one of the global nonprofits that co-lead the Covax program with WHO “The challenges in scaling production are significant, and they are fraught.”