On the heels of Pfizer’s announcement that the company’s COVID-19 vaccine currently in clinical trials is more than 90 percent effective, New Orleans Health Department Director Dr. Jennifer Avegno addressed questions about how a vaccine would be distributed in the city at a press conference Monday.
“We have a vaccine strategy that encompasses every particular aspect from acquisition, distribution, communication, equity, engagement because we know this is going to be an incredibly heavy lift,” Avegno said. “We are hitting the ground running."
She explained that Pfizer’s vaccine could go before the FDA as soon as a few weeks from now for an emergency authorization. If that happens, she said, the CDC would prioritize high-risk health care workers people in nursing homes.
The FDA has asked vaccine manufacturers to provide a minimum of two months of follow-up data from at least 50 percent of volunteers, as the most serious side effects from a vaccine take place in the two months after getting the final injection (Pfizer’s mRNA vaccine is a two-shot vaccine.). Pfizer should have that information by late November.
Avegno said that if a vaccine is approved soon, it probably would not be available to the general public until late spring or early summer 2021.
“We’re gonna be ready,” Avegno said. “What we envision is very much how we run our community based testing strategy.”
She mentioned that walk-up vaccination locations would likely be placed in neighborhoods where many people do not own cars and where the federal government has contracts with Walgreens and CVS to distribute vaccines. She said there would likely be other points of distribution, but “a lot of details need to be worked out.”
Avegno said the city government is engaging community and faith leaders to mitigate mistrust around the vaccine.
“We understand the real hurdles and the real concerns and resistance that many in our community might have to this vaccine,” Avegno said. “It is incumbent on us as health professionals to make sure it is absolutely safe and then to really work hard to get that message out so that people feel comfortable taking it.”
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease Director Anthony Fauci reportedly praised Pfizer’s vaccine results. Fauci is privy to all of the government-funded vaccine studies’ data. However because Pfizer did not accept government funding for its vaccine development, Fauci is not granted the same access with the pharmaceutical giant’s vaccine. Another mRNA vaccine study from Moderna, which is government funded, is underway.