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This year, most businesses have experienced significant losses because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Small businesses have been among the hardest hit, especially in the restaurant, lodging and retail sectors, with many being forced to close down.
The recent increase in COVID-19 cases following Thanksgiving and as we enter the winter months means the worst could be ahead for small businesses. It seems the earliest relief for small business owners will come in the form of a coronavirus vaccine. Here is all you need to know about the COVID-19 vaccines and what they meant to small businesses.
Everything business owners need to know about how COVID-19 vaccines could impact their operations.
Historically, vaccines have required years, or even decades, of research, development and testing to develop. However, in the case of the coronavirus vaccine, it seems likely that two or more safe and effective vaccines will be available starting in the next two weeks, prior to the end of this year or early next year. It is only when a significant number of people have received a vaccine, and the population achieves herd immunity, will life be able to return to a new form of normal and businesses start to stabilize and grow again. Most disease control experts believe, including infectious diseases expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, that it will take getting about 60 to 70 percent of the population immunized against COVID-19 for this to happen.
How coronavirus vaccines are tested.
The reason for the current optimism about vaccines is because drug makers are currently testing 57 of them in clinical trials on humans and almost 90 preclinical vaccines are being tested on animals, and many are generating very positive results.
Preclinical testing involves having scientists testing a new vaccine on cells in a laboratory and then giving it to animals to find out if it produces an immune response.
Clinical trials are more complex and involve several phases:
- Phase 1: Researchers give a vaccine to a small number of people in order to determine whether it is safe and to figure out the vaccine doses needed to stimulate an immune response.
- Phase 2: Scientists give the vaccine to hundreds of different types of people such as children, middle-aged people and seniors to find out if the vaccine impacts them in different ways. Phase 2 trials also continue to test the vaccine’s safety and ability to cause an immune response.
- Phase 3: Researchers provide the vaccine to thousands of people as part of a broader vaccine trial program, then wait to see how many of them become sick when compared with people who received a placebo instead of the real vaccination. These trials are used to determine whether a vaccine actually protects against COVID-19 by generating antibodies. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has advised that a vaccine must protect at least 50 percent of the people who receive it against the coronavirus. Phase 3 trials are also used to identify side effects that may have not been found in the earlier, smaller trials.
Once a vaccine has gone through all three phases and been proven safe and effective, the pharma company that developed it can request limited or final approval to distribute it.
During the regulatory approval process, officials in every country, with input from the World Health Organization (WHO), review the results of the trials and determine whether to approve a vaccine or not. During a pandemic, a vaccine could get emergency use authorization before receiving formal approval. Once a vaccine is approved and licensed, it can be used with the general public.
One of the reasons vaccine development has been able so quick is because some of the phases have been combined or accelerated. This has reduced development time from what has traditionally been years to months.
Once vaccines are made available to the general public, experts will continue to monitor them and determine whether — and when — people will need to get vaccinated again. This will help ensure the vaccine program is successful over the long term and the public continues to maintain immunity from the coronavirus.
Current status of the most promising vaccines.
Some of the most promising vaccine candidates are ones being developed by well-known pharma companies including:
- Pfizer and BioNTech. These two firms applied for an emergency use authorization for the vaccine they developed together in mid November. Preliminary data from its trials shows a remarkable 90 percent effectiveness rate. The vaccine was approved on Friday, December 11 and the first public individuals were vaccinated on Monday, December 14.
- Moderna. On November 30, Moderna, which is headquartered in Boston, announced that they were applying to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for an emergency use authorization for their vaccine. Based on this, if all goes according to plan, it could go into use in the last week of December or sooner.
Other biotech companies that have developed notable vaccinations are Astrazeneca, Sanofi, Novavax and Johnson & Johnson.
U.S. government and state officials have recently drafted preparedness plans that include recommendations on which Americans will receive immunizations and when, along with how to distribute them through national and local supply chains. They have advised states that the first doses should go to healthcare workers and seniors, who are most at risk of getting COVID-19 and experiencing serious symptoms. The states are responsible for final vaccine use prioritization and distribution.
Getting the vaccines from the factory to doctor offices, clinics and drug stores could be challenging. The most promising ones are based on mRNA (sometimes referred to as RNA) which deconstructs unless it’s kept extremely cold. This is a barrier that will have to be overcome. Planes, trucks and special refrigerators are being developed to handle this. On top of these issues, the vaccines require two doses, which adds another logistical challenge. State officials will have to create record keeping and communication plans to ensure people return for their second dose. Otherwise, the vaccine will not be effective.
Back in the summer, the Trump administration began awarding large contracts that accelerated production of the new coronavirus vaccines as part of its Operation Warp Speed initiative. Because of this, they could be available relatively quickly, once the distribution and storage challenges are overcome. Current estimates show that a significant percentage of the population could be vaccinated, and herd immunity achieved, sometime in mid 2021.
What the COVID-19 vaccines will mean to business owners.
Herd immunity in 2021 would be very good news for business owners across the United States. Unfortunately, herd immunity comes with the high cost of more than 90% of Americans contracting the COVID-19 virus without a vaccine. Vaccination is the fastest and safest way to return the small business economy to normal.
Many economists predict a V shaped economic recovery once the pandemic is under control. That reflects a very fast and dramatic upturn in economic and business activity, which would be the result of people feeling more confident about shopping, going to restaurants, traveling and attending events.
The only remaining barrier to this is public reticence to the COVID-19 vaccine. If people are unwilling to get vaccinated, it could result in a U shaped recovery, which reflects a slow, sluggish upturn. It could even cause long-term economic stagnation. Many experts are concerned that this recovery could be similar to the one that happened after the 2008 financial crisis.
Many experts are currently trying to figure out what kind of recovery will take place based on recent public polling about trust and confidence in the vaccine. Many are not optimistic.
The speed with which the vaccines are being developed, the new technologies being used in the development process and a lack of public trust in government are currently limiting public acceptance of it to approximately 50 to 60 percent. This is less than the 60 to 70 percent projection of the population that must get vaccinated to generate herd immunity. According to some surveys, more than a third of people flat out refuse to even consider getting vaccinated.
The coronavirus vaccine health literacy campaign.
Experts believe it will be possible to change this public perception through a concerted health literacy campaign. This would be a large-scale effort to educate the public about the importance of getting vaccinated, along with providing clear and easy-to-understand information about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine options. It would also inform people about when and how they can get vaccinated, along with providing reminders to get the second dose.
Businesses will need to play a role in this effort. They can take a lesson from companies like Mastercard, Apple and Google that are already communicating with their employees about this subject. They are putting out information that the full reopening of their workplaces — and the long-term success of their operations — depends on the public acceptance of a vaccine for Covid-19. Other businesses need to do the same with their workforces to reduce or eliminate fear, mistrust, misinformation and disinformation about Covid-19 vaccines.
Public health experts believe education about COVID-19 vaccines will require a bigger effort than almost any other health literacy campaign in history. It will involve providing information about many vaccine options in a relatively short period of time. It will have to clearly address risks, benefits and availability. It will also need to communicate the need for people to continue to get regular flu vaccines. It’s critical that everyone play a role.
Business owners should start communicating with their employees now about the coronavirus vaccine. It will be build a solid foundation of trust in future education efforts as more information comes available. Many studies show that people are more likely to trust information that comes from their employers compared with that distributed by the government, companies and media outlets.
Committing to an employee communication effort about the importance of getting a COVID-19 vaccine will help make it possible for the United States to achieve herd immunity by the middle of 2021. It’s the only way things will evolve into a new normal and businesses can enjoy the benefits of a dynamic, V shaped economic recovery.