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“When Will We Have a Vaccine?” — Understanding Questions and Answers about Covid-19 Vaccination

List of authors.Barry R. Bloom, Ph.D., Glen J. Nowak, Ph.D., and Walter Orenstein, M.D.

In recent months, epidemiologists in the United States and throughout the world have been asked the same question by clinicians, journalists, and members of the public, “When will we have a vaccine?” The obvious answer to this question would be, “When a candidate vaccine is demonstrated to be safe, effective, and available. That can be determined only by scientific data, not by a target calendar date.” But we realize that such a response, although accurate, overlooks much of what people are ultimately seeking to understand.

The emphasis on “we” reveals that most people want much more than an estimated vaccine-delivery date. Their inquiry typically involves three concerns. First, when will the public be able to have confidence that available vaccines are safe and effective? Second, when will a vaccine be available to people like them? And third, when will vaccine uptake be high enough to enable a return to prepandemic conditions? Often, the inquiry is also assessing whether the biotech and vaccine companies, government agencies, and medical experts involved in developing, licensing, and recommending use of Covid-19 vaccines realize that the responses they provide now will influence what happens later. There is often a sense that messages regarding Covid-19 vaccines can have problematic framing (e.g., “warp speed”) and make assertions that involve key terms (e.g., “safe” and “effective”) for which experts’ definitions may vary and may differ considerably from those of the general public and key subpopulations.

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