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Shah: Coronavirus vaccine will not bring a 'fairytale ending' to pandemic

Maine CDC Director Nirav Shah says Mainers must manage expectations of a COVID-19 vaccine and understand the pandemic won't end with a "resounding bang."

AUGUSTA, Maine — A coronavirus vaccine could be just days away from being authorized for distribution in Maine. It's a day Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah says "can't come soon enough."

The Maine CDC has a plan in place for when the federal government passes the baton in the relay race that is ending the pandemic. 

But Shah says that end won't be heralded in with a "resounding bang." Rather, it will be the gradual slowing of a speeding train. 

"I think we all have this hope that the arrival of a vaccine will quickly bring an end to the pandemic," Shah said Wednesday during a Maine CDC coronavirus briefing. "That the pandemic will go out the way that it came—with a resounding bang—I'm sorry to say that won't happen. The end of a pandemic is not like a switch being turned off. It's not like a fairytale ending. We all wish that this vaccine would bring things to a quick and rapid close, but unfortunately, pandemics don't really end that way."

The state will prioritize vaccinating its most vulnerable population, as well as essential workers, and then eventually the general public. 

Shah said that even after a particular threshold of people is vaccinated, there will still be cases of COVID-19.

RELATED: Vaccines won't curb COVID-19 spread in US until late spring, White House report says

A vaccine slows the rate of transmission for a population and reduces the transmission rate, with a goal of reducing the transmission by each new case to one.

But that would still mean that every 100 new cases would likely have infected 70 or 80 others. 

Shah says because of this, we may need to maintain current good public health habits such as social distancing, wearing a mask, etc., for some time. 

The White House coronavirus task force is also warning states that the immunizations alone won't alter the course of the pandemic until well into the spring. 

“The current vaccine implementation will not substantially reduce viral spread, hospitalizations, or fatalities until the 100 million Americans with comorbidities can be fully immunized, which will take until the late spring,” the task force report sent to governors and obtained by multiple media outlets said.

"Large-scale benefits of lower deaths and hospitalizations will only come after months of immunization," the report added. "Difficult but temporary changes in personal behavior are key to limiting disease and death until we bring the pandemic to an end with immunization; this messaging must be delivered frequently and by all effective modalities."

Shah said Maine can set itself up for maximal vaccine success by reducing the number of cases prior to the vaccine's availability.

Citing recent coronavirus vaccine research, Shah says any COVID-19 vaccine will be much less effective at preventing death or illness if the vaccine is introduced into a population where the virus is already raging, which sadly, Shah says, is the case in many parts of the U.S. 

"Where you end up depends on where you start," he said. 

Slowing the transmission rate is the best way to set the state up for maximal success once the vaccine is available.

Shah says the better we do now, the better we all will do later. 

"It's imperative that starting today, we take an effective, fact-based approach by doing the things we've talked about (like wearing face coverings and practicing physical distancing)," Shah said. "Let's do what we can do now so that when a vaccine arrives, we are maximally prepared."

Watch the full briefing here: