Medical researchers in Kentucky are expressing excitement about the prospect of a coronavirus vaccine.
Pfizer announced on Monday its research has shown positive results in an ongoing vaccine trial. Early analysis of the potential vaccine shows that it has been more than 90% effective in preventing COVID-19.
Marty Osbourn, the chief operating officer and research director at Kentucky Pediatric/Adult Research (KPAR) in Bardstown, has administered the vaccine trial for Pfizer over the past few months. Until now, she had not seen much data on the results, but Monday’s announcement was “exciting,” she said.
“When I heard 90%, I was ecstatic,” she said. “I’ve been waiting very anxiously to find out any data…A 90% efficacy rate is a very high rate for vaccines.”
Pfizer and BioNTech launched phase 3 of the clinical trial late July. The study has enrolled more than 43,000 participants with no serious safety concerns reported so far.
Osbourn has conducted the trial on participants throughout Indiana and Kentucky at KPAR’s office. The two-year trial requires participants to receive two injections, self-monitor for symptoms and have periodic office visits to collect blood samples.
“Obviously, we feel good about the vaccine on our end, being so closely involved for the past few months,” Osbourn said. “But to actually see what the data shows is really incredible. It’s a great feeling.”
KPAR is enrolling participants from ages 12 to 17. Older patients are also currently engaged in the process.
Dr. Jon Klein, vice dean for research at the University of Louisville School of Medicine, has already received his two injections at KPAR. He said he was surprised at the high efficacy rate of the vaccine, as he expected something in the range of 55% to 65%.
“I was really pleasantly surprised when I heard that, at least the initial analysis, is at 90% effectiveness,” Klein said. “It’s really terrific news. The level of effectiveness of 90% is similar to other very durable vaccines like the one we give our children for measles.”
Questions that still need to be addressed include whether the vaccine will require annual booster shots, if it’s effective against severe forms of the disease and if it prevents transmission from vaccinated people who acquire low-grade infections, Klein said.
Some of those questions will be answered when Pfizer applies for its Emergency Use Authorization (EUA), Klein said. Pfizer said in a release that it plans to submit its EUA to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in the third week of November.
“As soon as they get their emergency authorization [at the] end of November perhaps, in the month of December, I think, we will begin to see the earliest inoculations of people who are front-line caregivers in intensive care units,” Klein said.
Herd immunity and the vaccine will go hand-in-hand, KIein said. For the virus to be effectively controlled in the community, he said between 60% and 80% of the population will either have to be vaccinated or have contracted and recovered from COVID-19.
Some Americans are hesitant about the vaccine, noting the accelerated pace at which it’s being produced. But Klein said if more medical professionals and community leaders take part in the trials, it could raise the chances of people choosing to take the vaccine.
“Physicians need to step up, because our patients really do trust us,” he said. “I hope we still have that credibility with our patients. I understand completely a lot of very diverse reasons why people are hesitant to take a vaccine, but I think if physicians, scientists and public leaders step up, we’ll begin to see a shift in the opinions about how likely people are to take the vaccine.”
Once that threshold of about 80% immunity is met, however, Klein said that doesn’t mean it will trigger an “off switch” for coronavirus spread. Infections will continue for a period of time, something Klein said is referred to as “overshoot” in the medical community.
By mid-2021, Klein said he hopes the country will be past the worst parts of the pandemic.
“A lot of patience is going to be necessary, even when we get to [50% to 70%] of the population,” he said. “If we can work out the logistical challenges, hopefully we’ll see that sometime between June and August of next year.”
No vaccine will be beneficial for the next 12 weeks, which Klein said will be the “very worst weeks of the pandemic”. To mitigate spread during that time, he urged the public to continue masking, washing their hands, social distancing and staying home as much as possible.