The Shocking Problem That Could Prevent You From Getting the Coronavirus Vaccine

A vaccine shortage based on the supply chain could make getting the coronavirus vaccine difficult.

While no one can know for certain when the coronavirus pandemic will be over for good, many people are hoping that a coronavirus vaccine will help stem the tide of new infections. However, even after a vaccine is available—with researchers at biotech company Moderna already testing a vaccine on a small sample group of  human subjects—there's still a major obstacle that may prevent the vaccine's widespread distribution. The biggest problem standing between folks eager for immunity to the virus and a shot in the arm? A potentially catastrophic coronavirus vaccine shortage.

According to Gypsyamber D'Souza, PhD, and David Dowdy, MD, professors of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, between 70 and 90 percent of the population need to become immune to a virus to achieve herd immunity, which protects both people who are personally immune and those who are not, by lessening the risk that others will infect the latter group.

However, even the most ambitious vaccine production numbers just barely meet that upper threshold. Gary Disbrow, acting director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA)—which provided close to $500 million to Johnson & Johnson to develop a coronavirus vaccine that will theoretically be available this winter—says the company will produce 300 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine in the U.S. annually, enough for approximately 90 percent of the country's population.

Johnson & Johnson executives, on the other hand, won't confirm that those numbers are accurate. And while BARDA is funding stateside vaccine trials through other companies as well, there's little information on when they'll become available to the public—or how these vaccines will be produced.

In fact, it's the specific details of vaccine production that may hold things up when it comes to the widespread distribution of a coronavirus vaccine. According to a May report from Politico, the glass vials needed to package vaccines are already in short supply, stoppers for those vials are only produced by a small number of companies, and tools for both the administration and storage of the vaccines is extremely limited. That means that even after a coronavirus vaccine has proven safe and effective, there could still be a serious shortage that would keep people from getting vaccinated.

Whistleblower Rick Bright, PhD, former director of BARDA, had a grim outlook on the situation when testifying before congress in mid-May. "We don't have (a vaccine plan) yet, and it is a significant concern," said Bright, who also expressed concerns about the lack of an adequate stateside supply chain to get the vaccines produced, packaged, and into the hands of doctors.

At the moment, this all remains a theoretical problem, since a coronavirus vaccine has yet to be fully tested. In the meantime, the increased availability of both coronavirus and antibody testing may be providing a measure of comfort for some, but without much clarity regarding when a vaccine will become available—and how it will be produced in sufficient quantities—many are still feeling anxiety over a potential second wave of the coronavirus this fall. And to make sure you're staying safe, these are The 7 Most Dangerous Spots You Can Catch Coronavirus.

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Sarah Crow
Sarah Crow is a senior editor at Eat This, Not That!, where she focuses on celebrity news and health coverage. Read more
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