To end this outbreak, for good, we’ll need antiviral treatments or a vaccine. Those are currently being produced, and at record speeds. Researchers are working on new vaccine technologies — like mRNA vaccines that don’t use viruses at all in their production process — as well as cutting-edge therapeutic antibodies.
That said, it still could be a year or more before the safety and efficacy of these pharmaceuticals are proven. In medicine, effectiveness is not guaranteed.
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But even if it takes a year or more to produce, those treatments could still prove useful.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen with this virus,” says Barney Graham, the deputy director of the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). “So our job is to try to develop interventions that could be used if it gets worse. … We need ways of protecting ourselves.”
Remember: Outbreaks harm more than the sick
It’s also important to remember that outbreaks don’t just affect those who get sick with the illness and die — there can also be collateral damage.
Outbreaks economically impact the people who have to take off from work for a quarantine, those who cannot afford medical care, and the groups that are unfairly targeted and stereotyped as being disease carriers. As the outbreak progresses, it will expose the cracks in our society and our preparedness for future outbreaks. We need to remember the lessons we learn over the next several months.
“I think that it’s going to end probably the way the 2009 H1N1 [flu] pandemic ended, which is that shortly after it’s over, people will lose memory of it and not worry about it,” Rasmussen says. “But it’s going to have tremendous — really negative and lasting effects — for the most vulnerable people who are either medically or economically vulnerable in our society.”