WASHINGTON — The pharmaceutical company Pfizer, Inc. announced Monday success with a vaccine against the virus, even as COVID-19 cases soar, hitting over 10 million and more than 230 thousand deaths last week.

In a press release Monday, Albert Bourla, chairman and chief executive officer for Pfizer, said the vaccine, currently in Phase 3, has shown “positive efficacy results” and has been “more than 90% effective in preventing COVID-19 in participants without evidence of prior SARS-CoV-2 infection in the first interim efficacy analysis.”

According to the World Health Organization, there are more than 100 vaccine candidates under development. There is no telling when the Pfizer vaccine will be ready for mass distribution or even if it will be the first, but company officials said Monday that a second, final dose of the vaccine candidate to the same participants will be available by the third week of November. 

Melissa Hawkins, an epidemiologist and director of the Public Health Scholars Program at American University, sat down with Medill News Service to discuss the rising cases of COVID-19 across the country, pressing concerns surrounding the virus and the implications of a vaccine. 

The U.S. has over 10 million reported cases of COVID-19. As we head into flu season, doctors and scientists have been warning the public about a second wave of coronavirus cases. What is the connection between the flu and the coronavirus that has experts concerned?

With the flu season ramping up, there are going to be other respiratory and viral illnesses circulating. When those illnesses are circulating, that means two things: it means that there are going to be similar symptoms between COVID infections and the flu and also, being sick with one can increase your susceptibility to the other. So, if you’re sick with the flu, you’re going to be susceptible to a COVID infection. With the flu, we do have a vaccine, and that’s something that we can be very proactive in trying to prevent.

The U.S. is nine months into dealing with the pandemic, and there appears to be an onset of COVID fatigue among some people. President Donald Trump has expressed his own wishes to stop the constant COVID-19 discussions. With the Pfizer vaccine having such promising results, is there finally an end in sight to this pandemic?

The Pfizer and BioNTech interim accuracy results are really promising from their Phase 3 trials. There’s still more data we need to better characterize the safety before they’re going to be able to apply for approval from the Federal and Drug Administration, but this is certainly progress. My understanding is that Pfizer has 50 million doses that could be available before the new year and over a billion doses in 2021, assuming that their trials continue to go well. There are other vaccine trials that are right behind them that are also using the same mechanism that are showing promising results.

Johns Hopkins University’s COVID-19 map has the total number of global coronavirus cases at more than 51 million, and that number goes up every day. But Pfizer would have only 50 million vaccines before the end of the year, if its trials remain successful. If everyone is not able to receive the vaccine, what would a widespread rollout for a global vaccination look like?

A lot of epidemiologists and scientists are discussing the most equitable approach that also protects those that are at highest risk first. So I think that many are recommending that health care workers and those who have other health conditions, those who are at greatest risk, will be prioritized. I think there’s a shared goal that there is rapid deployment of the vaccine so that we can have as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible because then that’s when we can reach herd immunity and that’s when we can start to resume more normal activities.

Once a vaccine is finally distributed, would it be a one-time vaccine or would it look similar to the flu vaccine you mentioned earlier, where the public has to receive one every year?

We still need to determine that. I think it’s probably going to be more similar to the flu vaccine, where you’re going to have to get your COVID vaccine annually. But those data still remain to be seen. So far it’s been working without serious side effects. Ninety percent of those who were tested didn’t show symptoms, but how long this coverage lasts still remains to be seen. But if I were a betting person, I would say it’s probably going to have to be an annual vaccine.