Where is the Vaccine and How is the US Dealing with the COVID-19 Pandemic?
The novel coronavirus has ravaged countries around the world for more than a year. The United States, like most other nations, has struggled to deal with the fallout of the global pandemic as well as its effects on the economy, healthcare system, and political landscape of the country. For months, researchers and scientists in the US and elsewhere have been racing against time to find a vaccine that would neutralize the threat posed by the COVID-19 virus. And while they’ve had certain successes, a foolproof vaccine has yet to become widely available for the masses.
Until a vaccine could be found, the US (like many other nations) tried to implement precautionary measures that would minimize the damage caused by the virus, such as social distancing, the widespread use of masks, hand-sanitizers, and other personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as strict border controls and restrictions on foreign travel. Despite this, the number of patients suffering from the COVID-19 infection has grown steadily with every passing month, putting a strain on the healthcare system and causing a slowdown in the national (and global) economy.
The Race to Find a Vaccine
Given the status of the United States as a global superpower and its stratospheric per capita healthcare expenditure, it is perhaps no surprise that it is one of the handful of nations spearheading the creation and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. Motivated by the outbreak of the Ebola virus in Africa and the MERS and SARS infections in Asia, the Obama administration put in place certain pandemic-ready infrastructure in acknowledgment of the ever-present threat posed by harmful germs and microbes. The Trump administration, in turn, made use of this infrastructure to implement a strategy of test, trace, and isolate, to prevent the spread of the virus as far as possible.
However, despite the best efforts of administrators and healthcare professionals, containing the pandemic would only be possible once a reliable vaccine has been made widely available. Currently, some of the most reputed pharmaceutical companies and healthcare institutions, in the US and elsewhere, are working towards that goal. Potential vaccines are being tested and some have been approved for emergency use in the US. Trucks and airplanes have begun transporting the first approved COVID-19 vaccines across the United States since the second week of December. Nearly 3 million doses of the first approved Pfizer vaccine are currently making their way to hospitals and clinics in all fifty states. However, so far, the US drug regulator has only approved the use of this vaccine in cases when emergency treatment is required to save the life of the patient.
Workers at the Michigan and Wisconsin manufacturing plants of Pfizer (and its German partner BioNTech) began packing doses of the vaccine for delivery to hospitals on Friday, December 11, 2020, as soon as the FDA authorized its use for emergencies. Gustave Perna, the US Army General spearheading the government’s distribution efforts, termed it a ‘truly historic day’ for the country.
Despite the best efforts of the federal and state governments, however, almost 300 thousand people have died of COVID-19 in the United States. According to the COVID Tracking Project, this is approximately the same as the number of US citizens who died in combat during WW2. During the worst week of the pandemic, the number of fatalities was almost 3,000 per day.
The Role of PPE Manufacturers
The hope for an effective (and affordable) vaccine may be what has kept everyone going, but in the meantime, it is the reliable and trusted manufacturers of high-quality personal protective equipment (PPE) who should be thanked for preventing a higher death toll and staving off a potential catastrophe. Personal protective equipment such as face masks, hand sanitizers, gloves, and face shields help minimize the risk of community transmission by preventing the spread of the virus from person to person through respiratory droplets.
High-quality, multi-layered face masks made from comfortable materials having great filtering capacity, have done as much to contain the pandemic as any other facet of the healthcare system. Research has shown that communities, where the use of face masks is widespread and commonplace, have a far lower risk of viral outbreaks than communities that rarely make use of face masks. Therefore, the manufacturers of these face masks and face shields might claim as much credit for stemming the spread of the virus as any other arm of the healthcare system in the US. Their role had been especially prominent during the months before the discovery of a vaccine, and their importance will continue to be great in the days to follow.
For now, things are definitely looking up as 2.9 million doses of Pfizer’s new vaccine will be transported in super-cooled boxes in December alone, with another batch of 2.9 million doses being held back to provide second injections to patients who have shown signs of improvement. The first shipments arrived on Monday, December 14, at 145 hospitals across all fifty states of the country.