Trump’s October surprise: A vaccine, but the pandemic will go on for years

Guest Writer

No one ever wants to hear bad news and most sane people don’t want to be the teller of bad news.

Fortunately for President Donald Trump, this is not a problem that he’s ever had. He wants to own and sell the good news.

In the course of working for The New York Daily News and The New York Times I had the pleasure of meeting and talking to him half a dozen times. I didn’t expect to like him. Everything I had heard about him or seen on television, told me he was loud and boisterous, a braggadocio. Not my style.

The first time I walked into his Fifth Avenue office, he was charming, a little kid, eager to please. He wanted to show me models of his 281-foot super yacht Princess, his private plane, his airline company.

I thought of the scene in The Great Gatsby where Jay pulls out all his expensive silk shirts and throws them on the table in a many-colored disarray to impress Daisy.

He put his arm around me and told me I was “great”, that “ we are going to be great friends.”

And by the end, I was won over. I realised that he was the ultimate salesman. He was born to be that way. His Tower, the tallest. His plane, the fastest. His yacht, the greatest. His hotel, the most luxurious.

Nothing you could say could slow him down.

To my great surprise, I liked him and appreciated him. I realised that his strength lay in projecting the feeling that everything was going to be fabulous. And to his credit, this mentality, with few exceptions, has served him well throughout his real estate career and in politics.

In December 2015, early in the primary season when no one gave him a chance, I even predicted in Huffington Post that he might be elected President:

“Trump is going all-in on the bet that there will be major terrorism attacks between now and the first primaries. He feels he can keep his no-nothing 30% Republican base and capture the nomination with early wins and then he will see. It is a clever strategy. Don’t discount his chances.”

So now comes the pandemic of 2020. From the beginning, Trump again was the ultimate optimist.

“There are only a few cases.”

“It will be over by Memorial Day.”

“We have done the most tests of anybody in the world.”

The truth is immaterial. He wants to rally the country and thinks if he repeats untruths, lies and deceptions enough, the pandemic will just go away. His latest tall order: a vaccine by Election Day, in November, or by the end of the year.

Utter nonsense.

By the end of October he will inevitably trot out a vaccine and declare Total Victory.

War won. End of story.

But will it work?

There are currently 12 vaccines undergoing late stage trials with several having produced a strong immune response. Good news.

But a growing amount of research shows this immunization may be short-lived. A number of studies have found that the antibodies being produced are not durable and may fade quickly in as short as 28 days.

This disturbing information has led scientists at the University of San Francisco to turn their focus from vaccines to treatments.

“I don’t see a vaccine coming anytime soon,” said Neven Krogan to the San Francisco Chronicle, a molecular biologist and director of UCSF who has partnered with 100 research laboratories. “People do have antibodies, but the antibodies are waning quickly and then there is a good chance that immunity from a vaccine would wane too.”

A Chinese study released on June 18 in the Journal Nature Medicine backs up these findings. In a study of 74 patients, more than 90% exhibited sharp declines in the number of antibodies within two to three months after infection.

Infectious disease scientists around the world were discouraged by these results which would mean that people would be susceptible to the infection year after year, or even month after month.

Research on other kinds of coronavirus infections like SARS and MERS  suggest that although people develop antibodies, the response declines over time and people become susceptible again. Very few vaccines provide lifelong immunity.

Protections from vaccines vary widely, from 0% to 60% for influenza vaccines and 90% or higher for smallpox.

Will the vaccine Trump will trumpet in his October surprise be 30% effective or will it be 80% effective?

Second phase studies, after analysing the year-long results in tens of thousands of patients, tell scientists how long a vaccine will last. This will not be known by November or December or even a couple of years down the line.

At this rate, people may need to be vaccinated every month to achieve complete immunity, which is an unlikely outcome. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health said that it would be hard to predict whether a Covid-19 vaccine protects for a year after testing for only a few months.

Moreover, some vaccines will work well for some groups but not others, according to Tom Frieden, former director of the CDC. For example, young people may produce a plethora of antibodies while people over 65 won’t produce any.

The pandemic will certainly worsen when winter comes and people huddle indoors, as is the story with the other five coronaviruses out there and the common cold and the flu.

Vaccines never provide perfect protection and probably won’t completely end the pandemic according to Tom Frieden. Many scientists predict that the most likely scenario is that seniors will be threatened with Covid-19 for the rest of their lives, although the infection might wane over time into a weaker form.

For most of us, we will be waiting eagerly to see if this October Surprise will pan out as Trump promises.

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