Special Report: Awaiting a vaccine

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SWIFTWATER, MONROE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — We learned this week that Pfizer may have a vaccine ready next month to help prevent COVID-19. The hope is it will be among the vaccines that become vital tools to stop the coronavirus crisis.

An effective vaccine has been the biggest missing preventive piece to solve the pandemic puzzle.
It turns out Pennsylvania is playing a key role to help provide vaccine protection.

Family medicine physician Nehal Aleemuddin, MD, like so many other doctors this year, had patients sickened by COVID-19.

“The patients that I’ve had to treat were not severe cases. They were sick but they weren’t sick to where they had to be hospitalized,” Dr. Aleemuddin said.

He came up with a treatment to conquer their mild symptoms.

“Initially with steroids and anti-inflammatories I’ve gotten success with that,” Dr. Aleemuddin said.

But we’ve seen novel coronavirus at its worst. More than one and a quarter million deaths worldwide, including more than 9,000 in Pennsylvania and nearly triple that number in New York City.

“I’m sitting here in New York. I was in New York City while we had, you know, the severe pandemic strike in April and so I can tell you we don’t want to stress out our hospital systems,” Payel Gupta, MD — Allergy & Immunology Specialist said.

As part of the government’s initiative “Operation Warp Speed” to develop and deliver 300 million safe and effective vaccines in early 2021, scientists are working day in and day out including some in the Poconos.

“Our facility in Swiftwater is critical to this effort because it’s our largest facility in the U.S. Many of the people who work on the clinical development are based there,” Clem Lewin — Associate VP, Head BARDA Office, Sanofi Pasteur, said.

The Sanofi Pasteur facility in Monroe County has spent recent months cranking out vaccine material needed for two potential vaccine candidates. Phases one and two of clinical trials involving 440 participants started in September. The third phase is slated for December. To achieve progress to date, Clem Lewin says Sanofi Pasteur took a different approach compared to other vaccines it developed.

“Many of the steps and activities that would be done sequentially are being done in parallel to speed things up so we’re seeing faster development to meet this need but not cutting any corners in the safety or efficacy of the vaccine,” Lewin said.

Sanofi Pasteur doesn’t consider vaccine development a competition but rather a partnership for the greater good.

“We’re not in a race. We’re working hard to get enough vaccine to end this public health emergency,” Lewin said.

Once the FDA approves a COVID vaccine, distribution details will need to be worked out and questions will need to be answered including which medical facilities are equipped to store the vaccine, who will get it first, and when will we see meaningful results.

“We do not know what percentage of people need to be vaccinated with this virus to decrease community spread enough so that generally the population is quote, unquote immune. We only will know that as the vaccines are distributed and we’re watching the community spread,” Dr. Rachel Levine said.

In the meantime, healthcare frontliners and the rest of us wait for that day when life can return to normal, or at least, a new normal.

“We need a vaccine that’s effective and that’s going to save lives and we need one as soon as possible,” Dr. Aleemuddin said.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci said this week his best guess is that a COVID-19 vaccine could be available to the masses in April.

The vaccine won’t cost you anything. Once it’s available, health experts say safe practices like wearing face masks, frequent hand washing and social distancing will still be encouraged.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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