Will This Vaccine News Help Save the Theme Park Industry?

November 10, 2020, 1:31 PM · So what does this week's announcement that a potential Covid-19 vaccine was 90 percent effective mean for the theme park and travel industries?

At first glance, it appears to be nothing but good news. Travel and theme park-related stock prices surged after the announcement, with Cedar Fair rising 24 percent yesterday, followed by Six Flags up 18 percent, SeaWorld up 16 percent, Disney up 12 percent, and Universal owner Comcast up 6 percent. Most of those stocks have given back a bit of those gains today, but the financial market clearly sees this vaccine announcement as a sign that the theme park industry is now primed for recovery.

But "primed for recovery" remains a long way from "recovered."

Pfizer's vaccine remains weeks away from approval and even then will go to a very limited number of health care workers and first responders before being dispensed to the general public. Once public vaccinations begin, nursing home patients and other at-risk communities will get their vaccines before anyone who might be planning a theme park vacation in 2021. And, as California Governor Gavin Newsom said in his press conference yesterday, Pfizer's vaccine requires something called "ultra cold storage," meaning that your local grocery or drug store can't just stock palettes of the vaccine on their pharmacy floors, waiting to jab the neighborhood. Deployment may require new transportation and storage facilities. That will take time to develop on a national scale.

All this means that the best-case scenario for the theme park industry won't see widespread availability of the vaccine until the middle of next year — and perhaps even later than that. But even then, widespread availability of a Covid-19 vaccine will not end this pandemic if a large percentage of the public either does not accept it or cannot afford it. That means even more work to be done.

Until enough Americans receive the vaccine that Covid-19 case levels drop to near zero, theme park operations need to remain business as usual. So get ready for continued capacity controls, mandatory mask use, physical distancing, plastic barriers, and bans on large gatherings. Outside the parks, responsible communities need to continue to maintain Covid-preventing health and safety restrictions. If people listen to yesterday's news and decide "Oh, the pandemic is over — we can go back to normal!," hundreds of thousands of more Americans will die as a result of that recklessness... and major parks in California will remain closed.

In an ideal scenario, the promise of the vaccine coming next year will motivate people do better following Covid rules in the meantime, wearing their masks whenever they leave the house and minimizing their contact with people outside their households. That could help reverse this growing surge in Covid infections, allowing a vaccine deployment to knock out this pandemic in the United States months before it could if infection rates were still rising.

While that could help salvage a good season for regional theme parks next summer and fall, parks such as Disney and Universal that draw large international crowds won't see complete recovery until the pandemic is controlled in South America, Europe, and Asia, too, allowing international borders reopen fully.

As Winston Churchill said of the Second Battle of El Alamein, "Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."

And that is welcomed news.

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Replies (11)

November 10, 2020 at 1:48 PM

Under the circumstances, I'm not getting my hopes up for ANYTHING. If this vaccine is a legit thing, I am happy.

But expecting people who refuse to take the vaccine to NOT use this as an excuse to stop wearing masks that they already look for an excuse not to wear? I don't see that happening. We wouldn't be where we are without the "I don't care about my fellow human beings" crowd.

It may be "the end of the beginning" (which I think is being generous under these circumstances), but it's FAR from the end as we continue to set daily records thanks to those who, even after all this time, refuse to take Covid-19 seriously.

November 10, 2020 at 1:50 PM

I believe they said the vaccine will be free to all, so no need to worry about
being able to afford it as you mentioned..

This is great news for now, Pfizer said something like 50 million dose's available by the end of this year, and 1.3 Billion be end of next year.

Storage will be tricky - have to get cold storage something like -94 degrees.

As soon as this virus gets under control, I am heading to a Theme Vacation.
10 days in Orlando should do it.

November 10, 2020 at 2:07 PM

I've been reading about the Pfizer vaccine (developed without funding from "Operation Warp Speed" FWIW), and I don't quite understand why there are so many concerns about it. I'm honestly pretty shocked at the 90% efficacy, which is frankly incredible even though the data have yet to be peer reviewed. Based on all current available information, the vaccine and associated research will be given to the FDA for emergency approval in 2 weeks, and the agency is expected to take 2-3 weeks to clear it for distribution. While it's true that the first doses should go to health care workers and first responders, Pfizer has said that it will be ready to distribute over 50 million doses by the end of the year and other 1.3 billion doses in 2021. The US government has already spent nearly $2 billion for 100 million doses for Americans.

There are concerns about the storage requirements, but I think some people are overselling the limitations. The vaccine does need to be kept at "ultra-cold" temperatures (@-70-degree C/-100-degrees F), but that's only for long-term storage. Keeping the vials at that temperature preserves the vaccine for nearly 6 months, but the vaccine can be stored at normal refrigerated temps (@0-degrees C) for up to 5 days, and Pfizer is doing some testing to see if that shelf life might be even longer. The expectation would be that stocks of vaccine would not be sitting around very long as most people would be lining up to receive their shots, so needing to store thousands of vials of vaccine at your local CVS for weeks is pretty unlikely. Ideally, medical centers can establish distribution hubs where the vaccine can be kept frozen, and then shipped on dry ice to inoculation centers around the country, where they will immediately be consumed.

The one main drawback I see from this vaccine is that it requires 2 doses that are about 3 weeks apart. There's also no research as of yet as to whether the vaccine will need to be re-administered every year like the flu shot. However, as society reaches herd-immunity through vaccination and infection, the virus may not be as prevalent, reducing the risk of contracting it even if you don't take the vaccine.

That's the other big issue that we'll have to deal with - people who refuse to be vaccinated for one reason or another. Epidemiologists believe that a community needs to reach 60% immunity to effectively end transmission. When you add the rural parts of the country that will naturally be more difficult to inoculate along with the sizable population who choose not take the vaccine, getting to that 60% number may be difficult. I feel strongly that people should not be forced to take any medicine (though I myself willingly take them and ensure my family does as well), yet our society may have to establish requirements and protocols to ensure unvaccinated people are not unintentionally spreading the virus through communities and infecting those that cannot take the vaccine for underlying medical reasons. We could end up in a situation where you have to present a vaccination card or other documentation just to get on an airplane or train, to enter another state/country, or yes, even to visit a theme park. That's a slippery slope IMHO, and one I hope will be discussed at length with the incoming administration and the scientific community.

This is definitely the light at the end of the tunnel that many of us have been waiting for, and it's likely that people will have multiple vaccines to choose from by early next year, in advance of the summer travel season, which is likely to be very BUSY.

November 10, 2020 at 3:13 PM

Hopefully Pfizer's is just the first in a string of highly successful vaccines that will get approval. There's eight others in Phase 3 testing, worldwide. Let's hope it all comes together, and there will be a multitude of options to turn this thing around.

What will be interesting is how busy tourist destinations become, once the precautions are all lifted. There's a massive economic downturn worldwide right now that will negatively affect tourism, but there's also a lot of people who have amassed significant disposable income that had been earmarked for vacations, just ready to let loose. Will things slowly return to normal, or will the floodgates open?

November 10, 2020 at 3:24 PM

Yes B Goodwin - good points, there area few others like Moderna- that is also doing well in studies...

It would be nice to have One fully functioning Vaccine - and share the ingredients to many companies for manufacturing. But then the whole IP and who owns it, bla bla bla... Patent Pending gets involved..
Just saying, Cooperation between companies would be nice, but will never happen...

November 10, 2020 at 3:57 PM

This is a very positive development, but an effective vaccine is only the first step to healing. Before theme parks can actually recover, the vaccine will need to be distributed widely enough that transmission risk is low and the economy will need to recover sufficiently that people feel comfortable spending money on leisure activities. For destination parks such as those in Florida, it's also going to take a resumption of international tourism travel, which doesn't look likely on a wide scale in the next 12 months.

This will be over at some point, but I think it's safe to assume we're probably still several years out from the industry returning to pre-pandemic levels. I do hope that by the middle of next year, measures will be in place to drop most of the enhanced protocols at parks, but that's going to require everything going smoothly as well as a majority of the population being on board with what must be done. Sadly, I'm not overly confident either will happen.

November 10, 2020 at 4:33 PM

I mean, even with this vaccine, I don't see the parks (at least in CA) opening until summer of 2021. I'd be shocked if they opened earlier.

I am happy though that there has been progress towards this and this milestone just means (hopefully) that it will be administered soon.

Now where are all those anti-vaxxers.... I wonder if they will have to face the ethical question of, "Will I do my moral duty as a human to keep the people around me safe and vaccinate my kid, or put them and others in harms way?"

November 10, 2020 at 6:13 PM

This is great news. I'm also thrilled Biden has already assembled a legit team of experts to enact a plan for greatly slowing the virus long before we even get to the vaccine. It isn't rocket science, we don't have to have such a wildly out of control rate. And now we have someone at the microphone saying the truth, and encouraging people to make smart choices. Thank the lord.

If we could bend the curve back to a reasonable level between now and when the vaccine becomes widely available, the vaccine will be the icing on the cake. We could be booking trips for late spring if everyone buckled down.

November 11, 2020 at 12:23 PM

This is good news even if still a while before it can truly be going out. Sadly, am concerned this fuels folks to just flex rules and masks more as "so what, cure is coming" ignoring it won't be that easy. We still need to get this a lot more under control before this thing rolls out but given how folks seem to act like wearing a mask is so horrible, I can see them ignoring rules even more than ever so spread can continue.

And again, it's not like we get back to where we were a year ago right off, it's going to still be a long and hard road. Yes, the idea you can go to movies and such in spring is terrific but still see a slower road as thanks to certain segments of the population, this thing got crazier than it should have.

November 11, 2020 at 6:36 PM

It will be an interesting world going ahead. Vaccine status could well be a type of passport in some areas of the world. In Australia we can't currently travel internationally without specific government permission. Anyone returning to Australia must spend 14 days in hotel quarantine. Having a vaccine status on your passport could circumvent a lot of this and allow borders to reopen.

As Russell said though, the duration of effectiveness is currently unknown for the vaccine. It could possibly only offer protection for several months. If this were the case it may do little to reduce the rising rates in the US and Europe. Alternately it may confer longterm (or even lifetime) immunity in which case it will be a game-changer.

Either way, the international economy is significantly down, and this won't bounce back overnight.

November 11, 2020 at 10:06 PM

Let's hope the anti-vaxxer idiots don't influence too many people. We need at least 70% (I think that's the figure I heard -- or maybe it was 75%) of the population taking a vaccine, in order to reach herd immunity.

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