On May 18, in response to a post by Igor Chudov on May 16, the headline “Vaccine Against Variant” Impossible and Naturally Endangers Immune, wrote my friend and co-author Charlie Hooper:
Chudav highlights two main issues. First, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to develop a vaccine to deal with many of the SARS-CoV-2 variants. Second, there is some evidence that the Pan-SARS-CoV-2 vaccine can harm those who were not previously vaccinated but now have immunity due to natural infections. If his two points are correct, then any mass vaccination campaign can hurt a lot of people.
But here’s why I’m not worried:
(1) The technical difficulties of making Pan-SARS-CoV-2 vaccine will be irresistible. Igor Chudov has described this problem.
(2) The end of the epidemic.
I live in a lightly populated area of Northern California. Without medical facilities, seeing someone with a mask is rare for me and it has been going on for a month or two. Life has become normal: crowded bars and restaurants, private meetings, parties, travel, gym, sports, etc. Combine that with the lot of “vaccine hesitation” in my town and we should be the primary candidates for SARS-CoV-2 infection and death. But the sky did not fall because the virus is highly contagious but has transformed into a relatively benign form. The new variants are almost as contagious as record holders, just as contagious as measles. Which means, if you don’t live in a cave, you’ve probably come in contact with people who are capable of infecting you many times. Whether you are vaccinated or not, you probably have a good immune system right now. And, if you become infected and have symptoms, your illness will probably not get worse.
For a quick point about how contagious the measles virus is, if no one in the whole world has the immunity to measles and you and you are infected alone, you can infect the whole planet in 25 days. It takes an infection factor of 18 (each infected person can infect 18 others), three days for infection to spread, and adequate mixing (through travel, public events, etc.). The number of SARS-CoV-2 variants is almost the same: 28 days.
People are not getting measles once a month. People are not getting covid once a month. The only conclusion we can draw is that most of us have sufficient immunity against SARS-CoV-2.
(3) Most new vaccines will not be developed.
Why? Except for point 1, because people like me [Charley consults to pharmaceutical companies] Vaccine developers will know that there will not be much market for their new vaccine. The demand is not right there. Also, the Pfizer / BioNTech and Moderna vaccines were approved by the FDA with incredible use. Don’t expect a repeat anytime soon. As the FDA returns to its normal routine, vaccines may take years to develop. Consider the Novavax vaccine, which has not yet been approved by the FDA. Pharmaceutical companies will not see ways to make money with new vaccines. Most will be abandoned.
(4) Although new vaccines have been developed, very few people will use them. Unpopular vaccines will not be mandatory.
The demand is not right there. People are ready to move on. They are no longer afraid of Kovid. Does the government need a vaccine? Except for some authoritarian governments, I don’t think so. People including me are standing in line to get the real vaccines. In a law of civil disobedience they would stay away in groups for newcomers.
Any government that relies on the support of the people will quickly see the new vaccines as a losing proposition.
I have two points to add.
First, in the above point (3) Charlie’s statement:
Also, the Pfizer / BioNTech and Moderna vaccines were approved by the FDA with incredible use. Don’t expect a repeat anytime soon. As the FDA returns to its normal routine, vaccines may take years to develop.
Note that Charlie is describing, not recommending. He and I both agree that the FDA should at least be highly authorized. He recently wrote a whole book, Should the FDA reject itself?That makes some detail in that case.
Second, I would like to add a point made by co-blogger Scott Sumner: We now have a cure for COVID-19: Paxlovid. Beat a vaccine as a remedy.