Vaccines show promise as deadly pandemic surges

Vaccines show promise as deadly pandemic surges
Published: Nov. 23, 2020 at 12:50 PM CST
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - As infections spike, and coronavirus kills more than a thousand Americans every day, new data offer a glimmer of hope in the struggle to contain the pandemic

It’s still unclear exactly how much protection they offer but recent results suggest drugs from Pfizer and Moderna may be the vaccines for which the world has been anxiously awaiting.

“The results from these clinical trials are frankly stunning,” said U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.

The early results suggest both are about 95% effective, and the data suggest those who still catch the virus are less likely to experience a severe case.

Since our interview, Oxford University and AstraZeneca also released promising results from its vaccine candidate’s trial. Azar also highlighted that treatment options and regimens are also becoming more effective by the day.

Pfizer applied for an Emergency Use Authorization to begin distributing the vaccine; Moderna is expected to follow suit soon.

Azar said he expects emergency approvals will be granted, and that vaccine doses could be given to the most vulnerable Americans by next month. But, Azar doesn’t expect vaccinations to be widely-available until the Spring.

In the meantime, Azar said it’s on everyone to protect themselves and each other.

“The evidence is clear: distancing and masks work,” Azar said. He added that while he understands the fatigue many are feeling with following public health guidelines he warned that complacency has consequences.

Asked whether Americans can safely gather for Thanksgiving, he pointed to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control outlining how to limit risk, while suggesting everyone take the safest approach possible. “Make it through this Thanksgiving,” he said, “so that you can all be together and have an excellent Thanksgiving next year.”

Public health experts like Harvard’s Michael Mina welcomed the results, calling them “extremely encouraging.” But in a call with reporters, he emphasized that simply waiting for a vaccine could cost countless American lives in the war against the virus.

“We have tools,” he said holding up a rapid test that has been widely deployed elsewhere in the world, “these are our weapons right now.”

Mina began calling for deploying, cheap, widespread, daily rapid-tests back in the Spring. On a recent press call, he pointed journalists to his recent preprint -- awaiting peer review -- scientific article. He argues what began as a theory, that extensive testing with quick results would be the most effective method for controlling the virus, is now backed up by data.

Mina said rapid tests are catch the vast majority of cases where an infected patient is contagious. He argues that slight shortcoming can be more than made up for by testing huge chunks of the population on a daily or near-daily basis.

However, most of the rapid tests Mina sees as having the most potential do not meet the accuracy standards called for by the Food and Drug Administration. Mina argues leaders are allowing bureaucratic red tape to tie their hands.

“You have to just buck the system if the system is literally causing your constituents to die,” he said, “these tests could have allowed Thanksgiving to happen normally.”

Mina suggested Governors could approve tests under a surveillance criteria and build out production efforts in their own state.

He said there’s still time to save Christmas, but that will require rapid action from the president, Congress, and states.

There are ten more vaccines in the development pipeline getting closer to releasing early results. Once drugs are approved, distributing them across the country will be its own monumental challenge.

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