Moderna, Pfizer vaccines 'not silver bullet' to ending pandemic, according to Johns Hopkins scientist

Posted at 3:27 PM, Dec 01, 2020

The excitement of two COVID-19 vaccines with more than 90 percent efficacy is undeniable.

In November, both Pfizer and Moderna announced its scientists had developed vaccines with efficacy at or near 95 percent, but scientists are warning these vaccines are not the "silver bullet" to ending the pandemic.

“We don’t want to give the public the impression that there’s an emergency use authorization and these vaccines become available in a small amount in December and we can go back to our pre-pandemic behavior,” said William Moss, executive director of the International Vaccine Access Center at Johns Hopkins.

In June, the FDA released its vaccine guidelines, saying it would consider emergency use authorization for any vaccine testing with at least 50 percent effectiveness, so there is a reason for celebration, according to Moss, but only after certain questions about the vaccine are answered.

Dr. Anthony Fauci has said the initial vaccines will prevent symptoms in those who become infected, rather than kill the virus itself. Moss says that means immunized people might be able to spread COVID-19 to others.

He also wonders how long immunization will last. One year? Three years? Will booster doses be needed? They're all careful considerations that will only emerge once one is put into play, according to Moss.

“It’s obviously tragic that the [COVID] cases are occurring that quickly, but it does help a vaccine trial because otherwise you just have to wait that much longer for samples to come in,” said Moss.

The vaccine process has innovated how scientists and researchers approach these types of situations, however, according to Moss.

In traditional vaccines, a small dose of the virus is injected into the body so the immune system can create antibodies. In the COVID-19 vaccine, though, both Moderna and Pfizer have used what is called messenger RNA (mRNA) where the virus’ genetic code is injected into the body so it can instruct cells on what antibodies to produce. Scientists say this way is faster, safer, and can create a stronger immune response as people are not exposed to the virus.

“I suspect that if this all goes well and these vaccines are safe and continue to demonstrate 90 to 95 percent efficacy, we’re going to see other vaccines of a similar type,” said Moss.