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Virologist: Vaccine trials appear effective, but will be a while before public has access

Pedestrians wearing a protective mask walks past Pfizer Inc. headquarters on July 22, 2020 in New York City. Pfizer and German biotechnology firm BioNTech have agreed to supply the U.S. government with 100 million doses of coronavirus vaccine under a $1.95 billion deal. (Photo by Jeenah Moon/Getty Images)

Coronavirus vaccine trials seem to come in fits and starts, but there are numerous trials operating at the moment that are showing somewhat positive signs. How close is a vaccine to becoming a reality, and what will it look like in terms of safety when they first become available to the public? Columbia virologist Dr. Angela Rasmussen joined the Gee and Ursula Show on KIRO Radio to discuss.

“There are several vaccines that have been putting out data regarding their clinical trials as well as preclinical studies. And the good news is that there are numerous vaccine candidates that appeared to be effective at generating immunity in people, meaning they infused neutralizing antibodies, which are antibodies that are capable of rendering the virus noninfectious but also, in many cases, appear to induce T-cell responses that we think are associated with antiviral immunity,” she said.

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Some may be hesitant to take the initial vaccines when they first come on the market. What are some of the concerns with the seemingly rapid progress toward vaccines?

“So I know a lot of people have been concerned that so-called Operation Warp Speed is moving so fast that too many corners are going to be cut with regard to the normal vaccine development pipeline. And this is a concern,” Rasmussen said. “I think that as long as we are approving vaccines and making them available for use based on hard data obtained in phase three clinical trials, that would be enough for me to justify taking the vaccine.”

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While trials are promising, it still may take a long time for the vaccines to be available to the public even after they’ve been approved.

“I think one thing to keep in mind here, though, is that when these vaccines are approved — provided they have gone through a rigorous clinical trial — it’s still going to be some months before they’re available to everybody,” Rasmussen said. “Initially, people will be prioritized based on certainly professions, like front line health care workers who are at increased exposure risk. That’s going to depend a lot on these clinical trials and what the results are in terms of their safety profiles and their efficacy profiles in these different groups.”

“So it’s going to be a while before most people will even have access to the vaccines once they’re approved, so we may have more data by the time these show up in your local Walgreens or doctor’s office.”

To listen to the rest of the interview covering school reopenings and mask usage, click here.

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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