Study: Effectiveness of a COVID-19 vaccine also hinges on infrastructure, public attitudes

"We’ll get out of this faster if you give the vaccine less work to do."

The first patient enrolled in Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore this past May. University of Maryland School of Medicine via AP, File

Researchers say more investment is needed to ensure that a COVID-19 vaccine can be produced and distributed efficiently, arguing the projected effectiveness of any inoculation also hinges on how quickly and widely it can be delivered to patients and the severity of the pandemic at the time, according to a new study.

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Dr. Rochelle Walensky, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital, is among those behind the study, published Thursday in Health Affairs. The MGH doctor, who served as an investigator and senior author for the examination, and her colleagues concluded that more also must be done to promote public trust in immunizations and the continuation of the measures, such as mask-wearing and social distancing, to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The new study follows in the wake of two drug companies announcing in recent weeks the early indications of the high effectiveness of their respective vaccines in development.


“There are lots of ways to think about the effectiveness of a vaccine,” Walensky said in a statement.

The physician and her colleagues created a mathematical model to assess how factors, other than a vaccine’s efficacy, could influence the impact of vaccinations in the pandemic. The researchers determined those influencing factors to be how quickly and widely doses could be produced and administered, the public’s willingness to be vaccinated, and the severity of the pandemic at the time the vaccine is deployed.

Infrastructure, the researchers found, will contribute at least as much to the success of the vaccines as the efficacy of the vaccines on their own, according to MGH. Which is why greater investment in infrastructure is needed.

The researchers also found that even an effective vaccine would falter in the effort to control COVID-19 infection rates if the number of cases continues to rise and the pandemic is severe at the time of its deployment. That’s why, Walensky said in her statement, it is essential that efforts to slow the spread of the virus continue.

“If I have a cup of water, I can put out a stove fire,” she said. “But I can’t put out a forest fire, even if that water is 100% potent … We’ll get out of this faster if you give the vaccine less work to do.”



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