Sometimes you can mitigate a compressed timeline by adding more resources – aka: people – to a project. There is a tipping point in any project, though, where more hands isn’t going to matter if you have an immovable deadline.
Or, as a friend of mine is fond of saying: 9 women can’t make a baby in a month.
We have raced toward a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 for at least 11 months, ever since the virus’ full genetic sequence was published in January 2020.
Current vaccine research builds on research done on SARS and MERS, two respiratory illnesses with outbreaks in East Asia and the Middle East. Building an previous research helped, I’m sure.
This week three companies have announced successfull clinical trials bringing a bit of breathing room and relief to the world even as millions of Americans ignore what they should be doing – staying home and having yet another excruciating dinner via video call – and flock to airports to travel for our Thanksgiving.
Can anyone say ICU Christmas?
Pfizer, first to market with their announcement, says their vaccine is safe and 95% effective.
Moderna, behind Pfizer by only a few days with their announcement, says their vaccine is also safe and around 95% effective.
Not to be left behind, AztraZeneca and Oxford University announced their vaccine is safe and about 70% effective if given in an experimental dosing regimen of 1/2 dose followed by a full dose 30 days later.
Three possible vaccines for a virus that has we have confirmed has infected over 59M people and confirmed to have killed almost 1.4M people. The efficacy numbers look great. And here is where we start making trade-offs.
Pfizer’s vaccine requires a storage temperature of -70degC while Moderna’s requires only about -20degC. For those of us functioning in Farenheit world that’s -94 (colder than Antarctica) and -4 (about your average high quality home freezer) respectively.
AstraZeneca’s, meanwhile, can be transported and stored at 2-8 degrees Celsius/36-46 degrees Fahrenheit. The company also says it will be able to ramp up production faster because their vaccine is based on a slightly different scientific method than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
Without going to far into the whys, the TL;DR on this is: We have three vaccines with varying levels of effectiveness and varying complexities to produce, distribute, and store. The least effective one can be produced quickly and stored and distributed with no expensive refrigeration equipment needed.
Good, fast, or cheap.
It will be interesting to watch this play out. A vaccine that doesn’t require special equipment to store means its better adapted to delivery in rural places with unstable infrastructures. Who lives in these places?
I’ll give you a hint: mostly people who aren’t white.
Which vaccine gets approved, produced, and delivered is going to be what card players call a tell. Is the world moving toward justice where everyone gets the same protection regardless of their skin color or wealth? Or are we going to end up with rich, white folks getting the highly effective, but expensive vaccine while the rest of us get 70% effectiveness and fucking hope for the best?
When we throw around good, fast, or cheap in the tech world the follow-up is always: Pick two.