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EDITORIAL: Coronavirus disease vaccine distribution, application will be disjointed

Pfizer's new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine looks promising, and there are reasons to be optimistic. But we are not out of the woods yet, and social distancing and mask wearing needs to continue as the norm. – Photo by Wikimedia

Along with the events of the recent presidential election, news that a new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine was deemed 90 percent effective has gained national attention. At a time where hospitalizations and deaths are unfortunately setting records, 159,121 new cases and 1,210 new deaths were reported in the U.S. on Saturday, people around the country have felt their hopes soar.

It is worth noting that the process by which the vaccine was developed was unprecedentedly accelerated. Although news about vaccine developments should be celebrated, being realistic about the vaccine distribution timeline means people will be able to better understand how this news will impact their everyday lives. 

Moreover, it must be stated that the development of an effective vaccine does not mean the evaporation of social distancing and mask requirements. Following these recommendations will be paramount in ensuring that there will still be an American public for the vaccine to be administered on.

The vaccine will not be made widely available to the general public by the end of this year, so being cautious with our health will be the key to surviving the flu season. 

Dr. Paul Offit, a member of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) vaccine advisory panel and professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said, “This will not replace hygienic measures — it will be an adjunct to hygienic measures … You owe it to others to make sure you wear a mask.”

It has not been decided who will receive the vaccine first, but it is likely that vulnerable populations will be served before the general public. For example, front line workers, older populations and those with pre-existing medical conditions will likely be prioritized. 

The vaccine could be authorized for at-risk individuals by the end of the year if there are no unforeseen circumstances that delay it. The distribution of this vaccine is currently worrying experts across the country, and some are calling it a supply chain nightmare. 

The logistical undertaking of its mass distribution would be one of the most serious challenges that our nation has ever had to face. First, the supply chain will have to be filled and shipped to professionals who are trained to administer the vaccine. But the temperature is a huge concern for vaccine storage because Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine must be kept at -94 degrees Fahrenheit.

The vaccine uses genetic material called mRNA (messenger ribonucleic acid), and only extremely cold storage facilities can prevent the breakdown of mRNA and ensure the vaccine is not rendered useless.

Large medical centers and urban centers are the locations most equipped for ultra-cold storage. People who live in rural or developing areas will not have immediate access to them, and additional efforts must be made to reach these regions.

Every party involved is doing everything they can: health care professionals, the FDA, trial volunteers and the pharmaceutical industry. But the lack of planning, preparation and transparency from the government will seriously negatively impact these efforts. Furthermore, the unrealistic statements by President Donald J. Trump have spread a great deal of misinformation. 

Although the vaccine will not be made available to the public for a few months, the early effectiveness, distribution efficiency and public reaction will be major determinants of whether the vaccine will become mandated in public universities. 

Since this vaccine was produced in a short time period, we do not recommend that Rutgers mandate the vaccine for every single student and faculty member.

That said, if students choose to live on campus for the Fall 2021 semester, they should show proof of vaccination in order to better protect their roommates and classmates.

The decision to distribute this information to the student body must be a coordinated effort, with consistent messaging, on the part of the Rutgers administration. Since students will have to plan accordingly, Rutgers must be transparent about expected outcomes as early as possible. 

While it is understandable to be worried about the long-term implications of a newly minted vaccine, the positive impact this vaccine would have on lowering the death toll will allow for life on and off campus to slowly resume its regular pace. 

In short, a new vaccine is a cause to celebrate but not a cause to throw your mask away.

The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 152nd editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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