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Wicker: Victory against this virus may finally be on the horizon

Americans received uplifting news recently in our fight against the coronavirus. Two American drug companies, Pfizer and Moderna, announced that their newly developed COVID-19 vaccines were highly successful in late clinical trials and are safe for use.

Pfizer’s vaccine was 95 percent effective in producing immunity against the virus, and Moderna’s vaccine posted a similar success rate of 94.5 percent. These results are the clearest signs yet that Congress’s multi-billion dollar investment in vaccines this year is paying off.

Americans can be encouraged that victory against this virus may finally be on the horizon.

 

Vaccine distribution should start in December

As clinical trials reach the finish line, drug companies are going ahead with mass-production of their vaccines so they can be deployed quickly if approved. Moderna, for example, is ramping up production and is ready to begin shipping vaccines immediately once the FDA issues an emergency authorization. Pfizer has set up a massive distribution network and says it can deliver vaccines anywhere in the U.S. within days.

Meanwhile, four other drug makers are making steady progress through clinical trials and expect to distribute their vaccines early next year. One of those vaccines, developed by AstraZeneca in England, shows the potential to be 90 percent effective.

The federal government has agreed to purchase hundreds of millions of vaccine doses, which Americans will receive free of charge. States will receive the vaccine in proportion to their population, and state governments will be allowed to prioritize which groups are vaccinated first.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that frontline health care workers and first responders be immunized first, followed by the elderly and those with preexisting conditions. Health experts estimate most Americans will receive the vaccine by June of next year.

 

Government harnessed the power of private innovation

Vaccines normally take years to develop, go through clinical trials, receive FDA approval, and become available to the public. These COVID-19 vaccines were produced in record time because of Operation Warp Speed, a public-private partnership devised by the Trump Administration and funded by Congress.

In March, Congress passed legislation to invest billions in vaccine research and development, streamline the approval process, and pre-purchase millions of vaccine doses.

As a result of Operation Warp Speed, the U.S. government will own the first 100 million doses of the Moderna vaccine as well as the first 100 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

Officials estimate there will be enough doses to immunize 20 million American adults by the end of 2020, and at least 25 million more each month after that. Vaccinations will be made available at major drug stores, pharmacies, and shopping centers. I am pushing Congress to provide additional funding to help states prepare for and manage vaccine distribution.

These COVID-19 vaccines are a triumph of American ingenuity and scientific genius. They are a testament to what our nation can accomplish when we work together to meet an urgent need.

But even as we celebrate, we cannot let our guard down. In recent weeks we have seen a spike in coronavirus cases, with deaths and hospitalizations reaching new highs. Until the vaccines are approved and widely distributed to the general public, we all need to keep taking health precautions to slow the spread of the virus — wearing masks, standing six feet apart, and washing hands frequently.

Taking these steps, even with the end in sight, can save lives.