Everything You Need to Know About the Coronavirus Vaccine

The U.S. just reached a dark milestone: 10 million reported coronavirus cases. But there is also big news for a potential coronavirus vaccine. On November 9, Pfizer and German drugmaker BioNTech, announced that data from their ongoing coronavirus vaccine trial shows the vaccine is more than 90 percent effective in preventing COVID-19, per the New York Times.

The Pfizer BioNTech vaccine is just one of eleven potential coronavirus vaccines currently in late-stage trials. “If Pfizer already has promising results other trials may have some good news soon as well,” says Dr. Purvi Parikh, M.D., an allergist and immunologist with the Allergy and Asthma Network and co-investigator on the vaccine trials. A second vaccine from Moderna, which uses similar technology, is expected to deliver efficacy results later this month.

So what does this mean about when you’ll actually be able to get a safe, reliable coronavirus vaccine? Here’s everything you need to know.

When will a coronavirus vaccine be approved?

Before the vaccine can be approved by the Food and Drug Administration, Pfizer (and any other drugmakers with a promising vaccine trial) will have to finish collecting two months of safety data. Pfizer will be done collecting this information in late November. Assuming everything checks out, the company plans to ask for fast-tracked emergency authorization from the FDA, according to the New York Times.

Will the coronavirus vaccine be safe?

The FDA is responsible for making sure that any fast-tracked vaccine not only works but is safe. “The vaccine must go through a minimum of three phases before approval, the last being the most thorough with a minimum of 30,000 individuals tested, especially those in high-risk groups such as the elderly, those with diabetes, heart disease, and obesity, and racial groups with health disparities,” Dr. Parikh says.

There are still some unknowns: like whether or not a vaccine will be safe for kids or pregnant women. Pfizer announced in October that it would start testing its vaccine in kids but so far there are no trials that include pregnant women—who are more likely to suffer from serious complications of the coronavirus. “We will need that data to determine safety as every group is different,” says Dr. Parikh.

Like any vaccine, there will likely be some side effects but so far, participants in the clinical trials have only shown mild reactions, says Dr. Parikh. “Most commonly we have been seeing muscle soreness, fever, and pain at the injection site. In all cases, side effects fully resolve in a couple of days,” she says.

How long will you have immunity from the coronavirus?

The short answer: experts don’t know how long immunity from the coronavirus vaccine will last. The vaccine may offer protection for life or it may act more like the flu vaccine and only last a few months.

Will you need a vaccine if you’ve already had coronavirus?

It’s uncertain whether the millions of people around the world who have had COVID-19 and recovered will need to get a vaccine. A vaccine trial run by Astra Zeneca is including recovered patients in their trials, says Dr. Parikh but the Pfizer trial does not. “As we learn more we will have better guidelines but I personally feel as an immunologist that everyone should receive it as we are seeing cases of reinfection and some are more severe the second time,” Dr. Parikh says.

When will people be able to start getting vaccinated?

According to Pfizer, if their coronavirus vaccine is approved by the FDA, the company says that by the end of 2020 it will have manufactured enough for 15 to 20 million people, per the New York Times.

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