Sen. Mike Cunningham’s Legislative Column for Dec. 10, 2020

Legislative Column for December 10, 2020

For the past nine months we’ve kept our distance, washed our hands and waited for the development of a vaccine that would bring the COVID-19 nightmare to an end. Finally, the much-anticipated vaccine appears to be at hand. At least two different vaccines have completed clinical trials and could receive emergency authorization for distribution in the United States in the coming days. In England, a vaccine is already being distributed, and Americans could begin lining up for shots soon.

Missouri is expected to receive an initial shipment of a coronavirus vaccine as early as mid-December. In the months to follow, more supply will arrive and it’s hoped there will be enough to inoculate every adult Missourian within the next year (the vaccine has not been tested for administration to children). To explain how and when each of us may expect to receive the vaccine, the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) has developed a website, I encourage everyone to visit this site, if possible, and to learn more about the vaccine and how it will be distributed.

The first question on many minds will be, “Is it safe?” I trust the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will not approve a vaccine unless it believes the benefits far outweigh any possible risk. According to the DHSS vaccine website, tens of thousands of volunteers have received the COVID-19 vaccines during clinical trials, and only mild side effects have been reported. Also, DHSS assures us we cannot get the virus from the vaccine. Next, people are likely to ask whether the vaccine works. Again, the DHSS website suggests encouraging results, with the leading manufacturers each reporting success in preventing serious COVID-19 symptoms in more than 90 percent of trial participants.

Assuming the vaccines are approved, we now wonder when we can receive our shots. According to DHSS, the vaccine will be distributed in phases. Hospital workers, nursing home employees, first responders, childcare providers, teachers and others who routinely come in contact with vulnerable populations will be at the front of the line. Older Missourians and those with health conditions that increase the risk of contracting the virus will also be given priority. The timetable is still unknown, but public health experts suggest the vaccine may be widely available by the middle of 2021.

Cost shouldn’t be much of a factor. The actual vaccine will be provided for free, though there may be a modest administration fee in some cases. The leading vaccines require two doses, separated by about a month. One of the vaccines requires storage at -70 degrees. That’s going to complicate the distribution of the vaccine, especially in rural areas where health care providers don’t have the appropriate freezers. I expect we’ll hear more about how this obstacle will be overcome once vaccine distribution begins.

Although the vaccine appears to be highly effective in preventing the effects of COVID-19, it may not keep us from spreading the virus. It’s possible an inoculated person could still carry the virus and infect others. For this reason, health officials may recommend wearing masks and practicing social distance for some time to come. Also, it’s unclear how long the vaccine protects us.

The availability of vaccines will be a welcome development in our struggle to get past the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s definitely good news, but each of us will have to do our part if the vaccine is to be effective. The first step is to learn. I hope everyone will talk to their health care provider or visit the DHSS website to find out more about these important and potentially life-saving vaccines.

It has been my great honor to represent the citizens of the 33rd Senatorial District. Although the Legislature has adjourned for 2020, I remain your senator until the new General Assembly is sworn in on Jan 6, 2021. If there’s anything I can do to assist you, please feel free to contact my Capitol office at (573) 751-1882.