As the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday evening approved the first COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, experts are reassuring the public of its safety. The message is: while the vaccines have been developed in record time, it hasn’t been at the expense of safeguards to protect health.
“All vaccines — including COVID-19 vaccines — must go through multiple phases of testing for safety and effectiveness,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, the top health officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County, during a media event Friday afternoon.
“Today’s action follows an open and transparent review process that included input from independent scientific and public health experts and a thorough evaluation by the agency’s career scientists to ensure this vaccine met FDA’s rigorous, scientific standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality needed to support emergency use authorization,” said FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn, in a statement.
The green light for the vaccine from biotech giant Pfizer came as the pandemic is raging nationwide. COVID-19 infections keep breaking records locally and nationally; Washington state has reached nearly 200,000 cases and 2,850 deaths from the virus.
However, in King County — home to the tech centers of Bellevue, Redmond and Seattle — has not seen the ongoing surge of infections that have plagued other areas following the Thanksgiving holiday.
“It is encouraging that we appear to have stabilized recently,” Duchin said. “It tells me that the restrictions are working.”
State officials on Thursday shared updated details on vaccine distribution in Washington:
- Washington expects to receive 62,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine in its first allocation, which should come next week.
- The initial phase 1a doses will go to “high-risk workers in healthcare settings, highest-risk first responders, and to residents and staff of long-term care facilities.”
- An additional 160,000 doses should be received by the end of December.
- Officials expect about 183,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine by the end of December, depending on FDA approval.
- Regular weekly vaccine shipments should begin in January.
- Some 189 organizations statewide are enrolled as vaccine providers, namely hospitals and family medicine clinics.
- The Washington state Department of Health has a website dedicated to information on the vaccines and their distribution.
The state expects that it will take a few weeks to have enough doses to vaccinate everyone prioritized as phase 1a. In January, officials predict they’ll be able to move on to additional priority groups.
The FDA is scheduled to meet on Dec. 17 to discuss emergency authorization of the Moderna vaccine. The biotech’s vaccine trial got its start in March at Seattle’s Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute.
Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are known as mRNA vaccines — messenger RNA — that target recognition of the spiky proteins on the outside of the virus. This marks the first time that an mRNA vaccine has been approved for use.
And there are more vaccines on the horizon, including AstraZeneca’s COVID vaccine. Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center was the first to launch a trial.
In addition to FDA approval, Washington is part of the Western States Pact, which adds an extra layer of screening. The pact’s Scientific Safety Review Workgroup will spend one to two days reviewing the vaccine, which will be conducted at the same that the vaccine is being processed and delivered in order to avoid any delays in administration.
But while Washington and the rest of the U.S. are gearing up for the vaccines, global health advocates have continued lobbying for fair distribution outside of wealthier nations.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation this week committed an additional $250 million in the fight against COVID, bringing its total contributions to $1.75 billion.
Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman wrote in a blog post Thursday that while massive manufacturing, supply chain and delivery networks are up and running in some of the richest nations, that isn’t the case globally.
“The situation is very different for the majority of human beings that live in low- and middle-income nations, which include everywhere from South Sudan to Peru,” Suzman wrote. “In these countries, the supply chain hasn’t started to hum. Few deals have been cut with pharmaceutical companies, and the forecasts for vaccine supply are low.”
Bill Gates last month expressed dismay over what he characterized as a lack of coordinated planning and forethought going into distributing the vaccine under the Trump administration.
Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi on Thursday sent letters to every U.S. governor requesting that they prioritize paid drivers and delivery workers as essential workers deserving early early access to the vaccine. On the same day, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg reportedly told his employees during an all-hands meeting that they will not be required to get vaccinated in order to return to work.