But public health experts are discussing among themselves a new worry: that hopes for a vaccine may be soaring too high. The confident depiction by politicians and companies that a vaccine is imminent and inevitable may give people unrealistic beliefs about how soon the world can return to normal — and even spark resistance to simple strategies that can tamp down transmission and save lives in the short term.
Two coronavirus vaccines entered the final stages of human testing last week, a scientific speed record that prompted top government health officials to utter such words as “historic” and “astounding.” Pharmaceutical executives predicted to Congress in July that vaccines might be available as soon as October or before the end of the year.
As the plotline advances, so do expectations: If people can muddle through a few more months, the vaccine will land, the pandemic will end and everyone can throw their masks away. But best-case scenarios have failed to materialize throughout the pandemic, and experts — who believe wholeheartedly in the power of vaccines — foresee a long path ahead.
It seems, to me, unlikely that a vaccine is an off-switch or a reset button where we will go back to pre-pandemic times,” said Yonatan Grad, an assistant professor of infectious diseases and immunology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Or, as Columbia University virologist Angela Rasmussen puts it, “It’s not like we’re going to land in Oz.”