The push to immunize against COVID-19 is not the first mass vaccination campaign in the world. The New York Times has an article that reviews a few others. They include the Spanish Smallpox campaign in 1803 which focused on Mexico and other areas in the Americas, essentially the world’s first immunization campaign. An amazing story, read it if you can. Another was in 1947 against Smallpox in the New York City Area which succeeded. Some of us are old enough to remember the mass Polio immunization campaign in the 1950’s. The fear of polio was real and the inventor, Jonas Salk, was hailed as a hero. Other mass vaccination campaigns were against the Swine Flu in 1976 when fear of a a return of a flu pandemic like in 1918 was palpable. More recently in 2009 there was a campaign for the H1N1 influenza vaccine, because in Mexico, H1N1 influenza was causing serious illness and deaths in younger, rather than older, people. The Swine Flu vaccine was rushed to market by President Ford. The campaign backfired because the vaccine caused an increase in Guillian-Barré, a rare neuromuscular disorder that can cause paralysis. Most people survived and recovered, but some had residual weakness. And the Swine Flu epidemic itself never materialized. The hurried vaccine harmed people’s trust in vaccines, rather than preventing illness, because both the Swine Flu and H1N1 didn’t morph into a pandemic, or even an epidemic, as expected.
We are in a much different and dire situation than the prior Swine Flu and H1N1 scares. We do have masses of infections from the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. We do have masses of deaths and disability as a result. We also have mutations occurring that increase transmission and possibly virulence. We need the vaccine campaigns to be effective to cut the transmission rates.
This immunization campaign is massive and fighting obstacles, partly due to the enormous numbers needing to be vaccinated, partly due to the slow roll out due to little to no planning from the prior administration, partly due to complexity of these vaccines, such as temperature needs, and also due to skepticism for the vaccines rapid roll outs and approvals. Another limiting factor is just simply not enough vaccines manufactured to immunize us all quickly. Not to mention the non-adherence to masking and social distancing guidelines that work to prevent spread..
Fortunately, planning and actions are being taken by the Biden administration to help move the needle. One is that retired doctors and nurses are being recruited and credentialed to give the vaccine in mass clinics, which can help with manpower shortages, as other health care providers care for the thousands sick with COVID-19. Another is that PfizerBioNtech and Sanofi, another pharmaceutical company, announced an agreement to work together to manufacture more vaccine than Moderna is able to on its own. Another is that Biden is going to enforce the Defense Production Act to have companies that have specific skills, use resources to help ease the bottlenecks in manufacturing the vaccines so that more vaccines are available. And two other possible vaccines, Johnson & Johnson and Novavax are inching toward approval. I will write more about them soon.
In the meantime, remember that the new variants have arrived and will soon be everywhere unless we flatten the curve again. Double up on masks, back to social distancing outdoors. In a few months, we will be celebrating together if we stay focused.
Wash your hands, cover your nose, keep safe six, and plan for the vaccine.