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With two potential COVID vaccines on the way, some issues remain

A pharmacist gives Jennifer Haller the first shot in the first-stage safety study clinical trial of a potential vaccine for COVID-19 in March in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

We are just days away now from the FDA considering the emergency use of two COVID-19 vaccines. How will they work and do hospitals and clinics have the resources to store them and then administer them? Mercer Island MD Dr. Gordon Cohen joined Seattle’s Morning News to discuss.

“These are called messenger RNA vaccines, and basically they carry part of the coronavirus’ own genes into ourselves, and they provoke an immune response, and they actually carry the message to produce some of the proteins that are on the virus itself. Now what’s important to know about it is that you can’t get the infection from the vaccine. That’s one of the things that people worry about. That can’t happen and a tremendous amount of safeguard has been taken to make sure that can’t happen,” he said.

There may be a bit of difficulty in storing and transporting them considering they need to be stored at very cold temperatures.

“In this case, these vaccines have to be stored at very, very cold temperatures. They have to be stored at -70 Celsius or -94 Fahrenheit until it’s ready to be injected. This is a problem because how do you transport these vaccines and then store them? What’s happening is Pfizer themselves, they’re building special boxes that will allow the vaccines to be transported and kept cold and store that way,” he said.

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“But there’s actually a second problem with both of these vaccines — the Moderna vaccine and the Pfizer vaccine — and that is that like many of the vaccines in these trials, it requires two doses. And so it’s going to be sort of difficult to ensure that people actually return three weeks later and get the second injection.”

As a healthcare worker himself, Dr. Cohen is likely to be in one of the initial groups to have access to a vaccine. Does it matter to him which vaccine he receives?

“I do want to get a vaccine and early on because I do not want to get infected, obviously, like anybody else, and I am an increased risk because I am actually treating patients with with the infection. I don’t have any hesitancy about it. I know there have been some health care workers who have expressed concern about the vaccine, how quickly this has happened. But I actually think the rapidity with which this has happened is a victory and really should be applauded,” he said.

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“The fastest we’ve ever gotten the vaccine before historically was four years. So the fact that this has happened in less than a year I think is remarkable.”

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