Vaccines soon, but don’t expect quick shot in the arm

Stick with it: COVID-19 vaccines arrive this month, but it'll be some time before you can get yours -- and the economy starts to normalize.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

New York State’s first batch of COVID-19 vaccines is on its way – but don’t expect to feel their effects anytime soon.

Assuming all safety, regulatory and efficacy metrics are satisfied in time – they should be – Albany anticipates receiving 170,000 individual doses of a Pfizer vaccine immunizing against the novel coronavirus on Dec. 15, distributed by the federal government.

While this is certainly good news – “The goal line is in sight,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday – the larger socioeconomic benefits of a successful COVID inoculation program are still many months away for New York and the nation.

The 170,000 doses are enough for 0.8 percent of New York’s 19.45 million residents. Even with Albany expecting additional vaccine allocations from Pfizer and biopharma giant Moderna later this month, that barely scratches the surface.

And those opening shots are ticketed for the front lines. Cuomo, referencing the 20 million Americans (about 6 percent of the U.S. population) the federal government plans to immunize by January, said early doses “will be prioritized as the healthcare workers, seniors in congregate facilities, etc.”

“But 6 percent of Americans having available dosages by the beginning of January – you see how far we have to go,” the governor added.

Full spread: There’s a lot of real estate between here and “normal,” according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Even as more doses, from more sources, become available, there’s no telling how long it will take to get them where they need to go. Cuomo called the federal vaccine distribution effort – initially based on state population size – “the largest governmental operation undertaken since World War II.”

Also slowing the works: the large percentage of Americans who will be less than eager to line up for early doses. Cuomo referenced lingering doubts across New York State and the country, and counted the Hydroxychloroquine saga, hyper-speed U.S. Food & Drug Administration approvals and “the overt political influence that this administration has shown, repeatedly,” among the causes.

“We know we have existing skepticism about the vaccine,” noted the governor, citing Pew Research Center and Kaiser Family Foundation polls indicating deep divides – and serious doubts – among Americans.

“That is very, very troubling,” Cuomo said. “If people think the vaccine approval process was politicized, they’re going to be less likely to take the vaccine.

“If you start with a public where 50 percent are skeptical about the vaccine, that’s a major problem,” he added.

To that end, New York State has created a “review panel” to analyze federal approval processes related to COVID-19 vaccines and answer important questions about the vaccines and the distribution processes.

But even with the panel addressing public concerns and multiple medicines in the pipeline, many of the pandemic’s bigger mysteries will remain unsolved for months to come, according to the governor.

“When do we get back to the normal economy? Experts will say you need 75 to 80 percent of the population vaccinated,” Cuomo said. “That is a tremendously high percentage on every level – administration of it and acceptance of it.

“Some (experts) say as soon as June, some say not until September,” he added. “It may also vary state to state, depending on how well that state does and depending on the receptivity of that state’s population.

“Nobody knows, because there are too many variables.”