With coronavirus vaccines inching closer to approval, DC-area doctor says there are still unanswered questions

A pair of COVID-19 vaccines could be approved for use in the U.S. within weeks, but there are still several unknowns, including duration of immunity.

Next week, it’s expected there will be a public hearing for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, during which the company will request emergency use authorization. The Moderna vaccine is expected to enter the same process about a week later.

Members of the scientific community are impressed with the accomplishments of a vaccine that is 95% effective and was produced in such a short time.

“It’s just hard to believe that here in December 2020, just about a year after this pandemic was first recognized, we’re talking about the potential availability of vaccines that may protect up to 95% of vaccine recipients being made available in the coming weeks — so, this is truly a remarkable achievement,” said Dr. William Moss, executive director of the International Vaccine Access Center.

He’s also a professor in the Departments of Epidemiology, International Health, and Molecular Microbiology and Immunology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

He believes much of the reason the vaccine was able to make it so far, so quickly was because there has been a lot of concurrent work going on, such as overlapping trial phases and manufacturing happening while trails are still underway.

Trials were also made easier because of the ongoing pandemic.

“During a pandemic, because there are so many infections and so many cases, in the phase three we’re rather quickly able to tell whether these vaccines actually protect against disease or not,” Moss said. “So, the pandemic situation, as tragic as it is, has allowed for the rapid testing of these vaccines.”

While he’s hopeful a vaccine will help many, he said there are still several factors left to be explored.

“There still remain many questions to be answered as we go forward,” Moss said. “We still do not know the duration of immunity conferred by these vaccines, and it’s going to be very important to continue follow up, both in the phase three trials and in individuals who get the vaccine after the roll out.

We need to know how these vaccines work in particular high-risk groups, older adults, those with existing health conditions — also in pregnant women and children.”

Additionally, the impact of these vaccines on transmission and any long-term side effects are still largely unknown. Those are things that will only come to light with more time.

He also said there are other vaccines that will come after these front-runners that will be better, with features such as only a single dose, versus the two doses needed for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

But despite the questions and issues relating to these first vaccines, Moss said they are a positive initial step. While eventually there may be better options, these will give some defense to our front-line medical workers and most vulnerable residents, he said.

“We anticipate there will be a public meeting on Dec. 10, of an advisory group to the FDA,” Moss said. ”They’re going to really assess the data that the FDA has been reviewing since Pfizer submitted their application for the emergency use authorization.

About a week later, we expect something similar for the Moderna vaccine. Shortly afterward we expect these vaccines to become available in the states.“

More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Michelle Murillo

Michelle Murillo has been a part of the WTOP family since 2014. She started her career in Central Florida before working in radio in New York City and Philadelphia.

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