First coronavirus vaccines arrive

Bayhealth pharmacist Kidane Geda stores the COVID-19 vaccine in an ultra-cold storage unit set to -70 C. Bayhealth received Delaware’s first shipment of the vaccine on Monday and was to begin administering it today. (Courtesy of Delaware Division of Public Health)

DOVER — As Delaware received its first shipment of the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine Monday, state officials hosted a virtual town hall to provide more information about the distribution plan and address public concerns.

According to the Delaware Division of Public Health, Delaware is estimated to be one of the first states in the nation to receive the vaccine. It has pre-ordered its 8,775 doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

The first shipment of the vaccine arrived at Bayhealth’s Kent Campus Monday. The rest of the first doses are expected to be in Delaware on Wednesday, the DPH said, and the agency will begin scheduling delivery to the remainder of the state’s health systems. If they are prepared, the hospitals can then begin vaccinating staff within 24 hours, the DPH said in a statement.

The Pfizer vaccine was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration after an Emergency Use Authorization was filed. Another eventual vaccine, from Moderna, could be approved on Thursday when the FDA meets to discuss its EUA request.

Both vaccines have been shown to be above 90% effective in clinical trials, the DPH said. For comparison purposes, the flu vaccine is generally 40% to 60% effective. The DPH added the COVID-19 vaccine does not contain a live virus and cannot give individuals the coronavirus.

The third potential vaccine is from AstraZeneca, although that is likely headed to additional global trials. In its trials one smaller group reported 90% efficacy with smaller dosage while a larger group receiving higher doses showed an efficacy of 62%. An anticipated timeline for its submission of an EUA request has not been determined.

Dr. Karyl Rattay, the director of the DPH, used that timeframe as an example of how approved vaccines are safe.

“I think this shows how careful everyone is when moving vaccines forward,” Dr. Rattay said. “Although this vaccine has a tremendous amount of promise, scientists want to know more before it gets approved.”

The Pfizer vaccine, which requires two doses, featured 43,000 trial participants followed for a median of two months after they received the second dose. The ages of those studied were 16 to 92 years old, with a median age of 52.

Children under the age of 16 are not included in the initial three phases of the vaccine’s rollout, as the FDA has not yet approved its use for individuals who fall into this category, the DPH said. More clinical trials involving children under 16 are still needed.

The FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is also advising women who are breastfeeding, individuals who have experienced allergic reactions to other vaccines and those who have compromised immune systems, discuss the benefits and risks of taking the vaccine with their medical provider before receiving it. The vaccine is not recommended if an individual currently has COVID-19 or has had a severe allergic reaction to a previous dose of the vaccine.

Pfizer reported no serious side effects from the vaccine, and there were no deaths directly linked to the vaccine itself. The potential side effects from the vaccine are similar to those experienced by people who receive the flu shot, according to the DPH, such as soreness at the injection site, fever, headaches and body aches that usually go away within 24 hours.

Since the Pfizer vaccine requires two doses, the DPH is planning different ways to follow up with individuals after they receive their first dose. Sending reminder letters, providing automated phone calls and text messages, and patient record cards are options being considered by the DPH.

“It is highly recommended that both doses are completed,” said Dr. Rick Hong, the DPH’s Medical Director. “If you finish one dose, you might get some effectiveness but you would not get the bigger bang for your buck you would get if you complete the series. We do want to encourage folks to get both doses to get the maximum effect.”

The Pfizer vaccine is required to be stored at -70 C. Delaware received special refrigerators last week to store the vaccines at this ultra-cold temperatures and has already practiced with dummy shipments, Dr. Hong said. Pfizer also plans to directly ship vaccine to administration sites.

The DPH has devised a three-tier strategy for distribution which includes three phases and subdivisions in some phases:

Phase 1A — Health care personnel, emergency medical services agencies, and long-term care staff and residents are the individuals who will receive the vaccine first.

Phase 1B — Those who work in high-risk and critical infrastructure industries (food processing, utilities, education, police and fire), those who work and live in congregate settings (correctional facilities and homeless shelters) as well as those with certain underlying health conditions and are aged 65 and older will be next. This is expected to occur in early 2021.

Phase 2 — Those with more moderate risk for getting COVID-19 are eligible for receiving the vaccine. This could occur in March 2021, and information will be provided by DPH when it gets closer to the date.

Phase 3 — The general public can expect to receive vaccines through their primary health care providers, health centers and pharmacies as the vaccine becomes more widely available, the DPH said. This is estimated to be in the spring or summer.

With the distribution plan entering Phase 1, the DPH has outlined its goal for that phase:

• Decrease death and serious disease as much as possible.

• Preserve functioning of society.

• Reduce the extra burden the disease is having on people already facing disparities.

• Increase the chance for everyone to enjoy health and well-being.

When the vaccine is opened to the general public, any entity that receives vaccines must report daily how many are administered, the DPH said. While the agency does not plan to mandate the vaccine, officials said, it is strongly encouraging that people, particularly health care workers, get vaccinated once doses become available.

Dr. Hong said there is no exact number on the percentage of population who needs to be vaccinated to eradicate COVID-19.

“There are different models that say maybe 50%, maybe 70%, it’s hard to say because we don’t know how many people are still immune,” Dr. Hong said. “I think the answer is we need to vaccinate as many people as possible.”

Dr. Rattay added precautions, like mask-wearing, social-distancing and hand-washing, should still be followed after someone receives the vaccine.

“Unfortunately it is going to be a little while until the masks aren’t a regular part of our wardrobe,” Dr. Rattay said.

The DPH said it is in the process of setting up a Vaccine Call Center, which it expects to be operational soon. In the meantime, individuals can email their questions concerning the vaccine to while also visiting for up-to-date information.

“The Pfizer vaccine’s arrival is the first step in a process of getting back to our pre-pandemic normal,” said Gov. John Carney in a statement on Monday. “We are all looking forward to that. The vaccine will provide our front-line health care workers with the protection they need while caring for Delawareans who have contracted the virus. he vaccine’s arrival does not mean we are in the clear. In fact, now more than ever, we need to step up our efforts to keep each other safe. That means wear a mask, wash your hands, and do not gather with your friends and family outside of your household. We know that’s hard, particularly at this time of year, but we are almost through this. We just need to stand firm in our resolve to beat the virus.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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