COVID-19 vaccine: What local experts are saying

Experts are optimistic

Miami Valley experts expressed hope Monday at Pfizer’s announcement that early results indicate its COVID-19 vaccine may be 90% effective but cautioned the public to remember a long road lays ahead before every person gets any approved vaccine.

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“The information we got today came from a pharmaceutical company and not a peer-reviewed medical journal that looks at all of the data in detail, so we need to take this with an enormous grain of salt,” said Dr. Glen Solomon, professor and chairman of internal medicine and neurology at Wright State University. “We really have to understand these press releases are designed for the stock market and for shareholders and are not medical information.”

Still, Pfizer’s announcement is “highly encouraging,” said Zach Jenkins, a professor of pharmacy practice at Cedarville University. This is the first “solid data,” he said, from the nearly 40 vaccines that are in clinical trials. Over 200 vaccines are in development worldwide, an impressive feat, Jenkins said.

Pfizer is reporting preliminary results. If any vaccine is approved, it could take a year before it becomes available to the general public after being distributed to higher-risk individuals. Furthermore, many of the frontrunners, including the vaccine being tested by Pfizer, present unique challenges to distribution Experts said people need to prepare to continue wearing masks and practice social distancing through 2021.

Charles Patterson, Clark County health commissioner, said distributing a vaccine like the one Pfizer is developing would be a “complete and utter nightmare” because the vaccine needs to be stored at about -70°C and requires a second dose.

Dr. Gary LeRoy, associate dean at the Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine and former president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, said he hopes a vaccine becomes available that does not require a second dose because it will be difficult to get individuals to return.

“It always gets back to awareness and education so we have to make the community aware of why you have to have two vaccinations," he said.

LeRoy said distributors would need to keep registries and follow up with patients who don’t return for their second dose.

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Polls have indicated half the country or more may be reluctant to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Jenkins said people should feel safe getting a vaccine approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

“Since they’re staggering distribution of this vaccine, we’re going to have people who are exposed earlier to it,” he said. “By the time it gets to the majority of the population, we should have a fair idea about safety.”

According to a plan released by the Ohio Department of Health in late October, the first individuals to get a COVID-19 vaccine in Ohio when one becomes available would include high-risk health care workers, first responders, older adults living in nursing homes and people with significant health issues.

The first group to receive the approved vaccine should also feel safe, Jenkins said.

“The FDA has made some pretty strong statements about how they’re not lowering their safety standards ... because if (an approved COVID-19 vaccine is) not safe, the chance of actually trying to contain the further spread of the pandemic with a vaccine are almost shot because you really undermine public confidence,” he said.

LeRoy said many questions still need to be answered. The state and the federal government have not yet made clear what institutions — public health departments, pharmacies, doctor’s offices, hospitals, etc. — would distribute a COVID-19 vaccine.

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