Nearly five months into the pandemic, all hopes of extinguishing COVID-19 are riding on a still-hypothetical vaccine. And so a refrain has caught on: We might have to stay home—until we have a vaccine. Close schools—until we have a vaccine. Wear masks—but only until we have a vaccine. During these months of misery, this mantra has offered a small glimmer of hope. Normal life is on the other side, and we just have to wait—until we have a vaccine.

Feeding these hopes are the Trump administration’s exceedingly rosy projections of a vaccine as early as October, as well as the media’s blow-by-blow coverage of vaccine trials. Each week brings news of “early success,” “promising initial results,” and stocks rising because of “vaccine optimism.” But a COVID-19

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