Festivals have been associated with the winter solstice for thousands of years. The theme running through all of them is the lengthening of days, the return of the sun, the promise of rebirth, a time of hope. We have reason to be hopeful as 2020 comes to a close.
Last Saturday, we got the good news that the FDA gave emergency use authorization for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for those 18 and older. Moderna’s vaccine should receive approval shortly. Both of them are safe and reported to be around 95% effective in preventing infection from the novel coronavirus; Sunday, the FDA extended approval for use of the Pfizer vaccine to 16-year olds, and Monday, the first batches of the vaccine were distributed.
The vaccines’ distribution will be limited initially; the federal government contracted for 100 million doses, enough to inoculate 50 million people — you’ll need a second dose a few weeks after the first one. Those doses will be distributed among the states. Maryland is expected to receive 51,000 doses in the first round of distributing Pfizer vaccines, and if the Moderna vaccine receives approval, another 210,000 doses should arrive sometime early next year. That is enough to vaccinate just 3.4% of our population.
CDC guidelines call for inoculations to be prioritized. The first group to receive the vaccine are health workers and those in nursing homes; According to Maryland’s vaccination plan, 320,000 healthcare workers and 52,000 nursing home residents are in this group. The second tier of recipients consists of essential workers, teachers, and first responders. 485,000 Marylanders make up that group. Those with certain preexisting conditions or over 65 years of age comprise the third group of people in line for inoculations. Around 1.8 million Marylanders are in this cohort. The initial allotment of vaccines falls far short of the number of highest priority recipients, let alone the several million of us not falling into one of the high priority groups; we will need to wait until later in 2021 for the vaccines to significantly reduce the COVID-19 infection rate.
The limited supplies of the several vaccines, along with the extreme low-temperature refrigeration needed to preserve the Pfizer vaccine means that supplies will go to population centers with the facilities to handle the vaccine. It also means that we will still need to maintain safe practices, social distancing and wearing masks. That being said, we are not yet out of the woods, but we can see an end to the terrible upsurge in infections and deaths this scourge is inflicting on us.
That positive ending depends on more than the vaccine being available. Researchers say that for herd immunity to develop, at least 70% of Americans need to be inoculated. It’s not at all clear that enough people will.
An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs survey conducted last week shows that 25% of Americans are unsure about being vaccinated, and an astonishing 25% say they won’t. Older Americans, Caucasians, and Democrats tend to be more willing to roll up their sleeves than those under 45, people of color, and those living in Republican-leaning areas. African Americans were under-represented in both the Pfizer and Moderna tests, leading to increased doubts about the efficacy of the drugs on them. The same people rejecting both social distancing and mask-wearing also say they won’t get inoculated. President Trump can do one service to the country by urging his base to listen to the scientists.
Very few of us will be among those receiving vaccinations in the last days of this year, but almost all of us will celebrate one of those end-of-year holidays. Today’s the fifth day of Hanukkah, winter solstice is next Monday, and in just ten days, Christmas will be on us, followed by Kwanzaa. Whichever ones you celebrate, I wish you the happiest and healthiest of holidays. And the safest, too.
Mitch Edelman, vice chairperson of the Carroll County Democratic Central Committee, writes from Finksburg. His column appears every other Tuesday. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.