“We are not driving this tiger, we are riding it,” epidemiologist Dr. Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota told Chris Wallace during a Sunday television interview.
The tiger in question is coronavirus. And Dr. Osterholm is convinced it is a much more heinous foe than we have struggled with to date.
“We are going to see a substantial part of our country become infected,” he said. “Trust me, we’ve got a long way to go…we are never going to be blue and red again, we are going to be covid-colored, that’s the message the public has to understand.”
Osterholm believes that a “substantial” portion of our country is 60 -70 percent of the population. That’s 200 million Americans infected — potentially over a million casualties.
Dr. Osterholm recently told Blue Zone that “the darkest days are still ahead of us.”
Obviously, there are no easy answers, but a lengthy lockdown is not the strategy Dr. Osterholm favors. “I think one of the things we have to understand is that we just can’t lockdown…we will destroy the economy and society as we know it if we try to do that.” Nor can we “open up willy-nilly.”
Osterholm continued: “we have got to thread the rope through the needle in the middle…we have to learn to live with it.” That means physical distancing, weighing risks intelligently and informing the public with straight talk, not “happy talk.” And, of course, “we desperately need a vaccine.”
Realistically, how soon can we expect to see a vaccine?
Dr. Anthony Fauci has said that by December of this year, we will know whether we will have a safe and effective vaccine that could be disseminated in 2021. If so, it would be the fastest vaccine of this kind that has ever been developed.
Others are less optimistic and point out that even when we do finally have a vaccine, delays in distribution will be a major headache.
Dr. Marcus Zervos, an infectious disease specialist, suggested that the most likely timetable is the fall of 2021. “The AIDs vaccine has been worked on for 20 years or more, for example, and it’s still not out,” he said.
Another leading vaccine expert, Dr. Peter Hotez, noted that, in the past, it has taken years for vaccinations to be proven safe and effective. Hotez has spent his life in this field and he has experienced delays up to a decade — he cited a report that estimates 90 percent of vaccines that start clinical trials end up failing to get to the marketplace. Most of these drugs turn out to be ineffective or unsafe.
When we do have a vaccine, it’s likely to be either a two-shot process, or several vaccinations for different purposes.
Vaccinologist Dr. Deborah Fuller from the University of Washington School of Medicine sums up the consensus: the coronavirus will require “multiple vaccines to fully stop the pandemic.” For example, older populations with underlying high risk conditions will respond to drugs differently than younger, healthier people—one size will not fit all.
Inevitably, politics will play a hand in the process, Dr. Fuller adds.
Dr. William Schaffner, Professor of Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University, acknowledges that “there are always natural tensions, or shall we say, pressures from the political side.”
Earning the public trust regarding vaccines is also a concern for Dr. Schaffner. “We all know that we have a portion of our population not trusting vaccinations,” he said. It’s up to the scientific community to communicate to the public that the prescribed treatment is trustworthy.
The last obstacle in the covid-19 war may be the 60-plus state and local agencies which track immunizations. If there are, for instance, two vaccinations required, those agencies will need to coordinate information — a potential nightmare of bureaucracy when it comes to hundreds of millions of records.
Again, Dr. Osterholm: “This is a challenge that is as daunting as any I’ve ever faced in my public health career.”