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I'll take the vaccine, hold the bacon

So, are you going to get one of these COVID-19 vaccines when they become available?

The public is skeptical. When asked a month ago, 58% of those polled said they would get vaccinated as soon as a vaccine was available, down from 69% who said the same thing in mid-August, according to a Harris Poll conducted a month ago.

If you can’t believe polls, what can you believe?

As you’ve read, developing a vaccine against the new, highly contagious, sometimes deadly and sometimes benign virus has been an unprecedented undertaking.

“Drug companies, working closely with the U.S. government and fueled by an infusion of more than $10 billion of taxpayer money, have developed, tested and scaled up a half-dozen potential vaccines at unprecedented speed,” is how The Washington Post put it a month ago.

And scientists are using technology never applied in the development of a vaccine.

This never ends well in any sci-fi movie. In the first 15 or 20 minutes, you watch the unprecedented research effort using cutting-edge science to develop a medicine that can save the world from an apocalyptic health threat. One scientist urges caution, but no one listens. You know it is all just a set up for the mayhem to follow.

People turn into mutated zombies! Or the disease gets worse! Or formerly normal folks blindly follow some cult-like political figure even though he constantly lies, locks up children, vows to encase the country in a wall and dyes his skin a strange, orange hue. It gives me the creeps just thinking about it.

I have to remind myself that I must believe in science, not science fiction. And, after all, no sci-fi movie is going to have everything go along smoothly, with the vaccine working as planned and the health threat eradicated. Who is going to pay to watch that?

And the science is being followed. Theories were turned into real-life treatments in the laboratories. They have been subjected to double-blind tests — half the test subjects get the real stuff, half get placebos, and researchers don’t know who got which until the results are “unblinded.”

The results have been impressive. Vaccines developed by Pfizer, which passed on any federal cash, and Moderna have shown about 95% effectiveness in protecting study participants from COVID-19.

Anyway, before most of us get to receive a vaccine, lots of other folks will get the chance. We will find out pretty quickly if they have to add “in rare cases people have been known to become zombies” to the long list of side effects at the end of the commercial.

Both Pfizer and Moderna are applying to the Food and Drug Administration for emergency authorization to begin vaccinating. According to early reports, the two companies could produce enough vaccine for about 20 million people in the United States by year’s end. The first doses will go to people with the highest risk, like health care workers, emergency medical workers and frail residents of nursing homes.

Wider distribution may become available by next spring.

Both vaccines use a synthetic version of coronavirus genetic material, called mRNA. It programs a person’s cells to churn out many copies of a fragment of the virus. That fragment sets off alarms in the immune system and stimulates it to attack, should the real virus try to invade. Well, that’s how a New York Times story explained it, anyway.

Somehow, I think it’s more complicated than that. Sort of like me explaining to a 5-year-old how elections work. “The people vote for the best person they think can make things better for everyone. When it is over, everybody, even the non-winner, agrees to work together to help whoever got the most votes do a great job!”

An added challenge is that these vaccines have to be kept really cold. They must be stored and transported at minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit for Moderna, and minus 100 Fahrenheit or so for the Pfizer vaccine. This will be no problem in midwinter in Bismarck, N.D., and Caribou, Maine, but a tall order in Miami.

However, Moderna reports that once the vaccine arrives at its destination, it has a longer shelf life in the refrigerator than previously thought, up to 30 days.

“Honey, how long has the vaccine been in here behind the leftover pizza?”

And two applications will be needed.

Interestingly, such vaccines use “proprietary formulations of fat to encase and protect the mRNA,” said a Moderna spokesperson.

You know the bacon craze is getting out of hand when they are even wrapping vaccines in it.

In any event, I’m sold. I’m ready to venture out without a mask. To stop scurrying across the street when I see a neighbor coming at me on my morning walk. I’m ready to roll up the sleeve and get my mRNA. And, frankly, I am happy to wait until 2021. I’m not taking any more chances with 2020.

Paul Choiniere is the editorial page editor.


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