UVA researchers say at least 60% of population needs to receive COVID-19 vaccine for it to work

Published: Sep. 24, 2020 at 7:53 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - University of Virginia researchers say that a COVID-19 vaccine is likely to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration before the end of the year, but how many people actually get the shot is the next great hurdle in defeating the virus.

As the race for a vaccine continues nationwide, new polling suggests that even if one is approved by the FDA at no cost, it won’t be universally embraced.

A poll of Virginians conducted by the Center for Public Policy at the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University this month showed that 40% of Virginians would not get the shot if it was ready right now and 66% say they do not support a COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

The VCU poll is almost in line with a Gallup poll showing 35% of the country feels the same way.

Researchers at UVA say that could threaten the vaccine’s ultimate effectiveness.

“You probably need more than 60 plus percent of people to get it to blunt the course of the pandemic,” Dr. Steven Zeichner explained.

Dr. Zeichner is working on a vaccine project at UVA designed to be cost effective to increase access in poor countries.

Dr. Bill Petri, another researcher at UVA, is working on a separate vaccine project. That trial is working to use antibodies to target the specific spike glycoprotein in COVID-19, and prevent it from entering healthy cells and replicating.

“My wife asked me, ‘Would I be one of the first ones to take the vaccine?’ And I said, ‘Yes, I’d love to, to be one of the first in Charlottesville to be vaccinated’,” Dr. Bill Petri added. “It’s hugely important because we’re going to protect not only ourselves, but then we’re going to reduce the risk of transmission to others.”

One of the biggest concerns for Virginians is the safety of a potential vaccine, the development of which has been dramatically sped up to meet the public health crisis. However, both Zeichner and Petri agree from what they’ve seen first-hand working on vaccines that safety is a priority.

“The standards, I think, are now, they’re being articulated a little more regularly, rigorously than they had been in the past,” Zeichner said.

Petri pointed to the recent temporary shutdown of the Oxford University / AstraZeneca trial after a participant fell ill as a good example of precautions in place and being followed.

“One person out of 40,000 in a study is enough for the FDA to say, ‘Wait, let’s make sure like that this is safe before we go forward,’” Petri said. “I would hope that people would find that reassuring, that safety is not going to be compromised.”

A key piece of advice from both doctors: get your flu shot, especially this year. Since both coronavirus and the flu have similar symptoms, protecting yourself against the latter could help in being diagnosed if you do catch coronavirus.

Less people getting the flu would also alleviate the added strain flu season puts on hospitals annually.

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