This week Pfizer announced a vaccine candidate they found to be more than 90% effective in preventing COVID-19.

Pfizer and Biontech studied 43,538 participants, all of diverse backgrounds, and found no serious safety concerns from adminstration of BNT162b2. They have planned to submit it to the US. Food and Drug Administration late November for emergency use.

Dr. Suman Radhakrishna, Director of Infectious Disease with Dignity Health, told Valley News Group, “This is the first clinical trial data available to us. There are several other companies testing vaccines for COVID and information on these is not available yet. Data from other vaccine trials will be released when they reach a minimum of 62 cases of COVID in both vaccinated and placebo groups. It is possible we may have several vaccines with similar efficacy available to the general public soon.”

Radhakrishna said that with the Pfizer release, “We should expect an expedited process of approval by the end of the year.”

A major question remains as to how long before the general public can be vaccinated, as the government has indicated there will be a tiered phase-out, with high-risk and health care workers and other essential workers receiving the vaccine first.

“Ideally – all susceptible individuals should be vaccinated simultaneously to build up the herd immunity to stop COVID transmission (ideally worldwide),” said Radhakrishna. “In reality, the limited availability of vaccine doses, bottles needed to transport it, syringes, cold storage/transportation at -70 C are all significant constraints.”

She said that realistically  vaccinations will probably start in the spring.  “We may need to make a priority list for vaccinating first responders, health care and essential workers, at risk (for severe COVID) individuals,” she concurred.  “But if other vaccines also show sufficient efficacy, we may not have significant shortage.”

Pfizer CEO Dr. Albert Bourla said on Monday, “With today’s news, we are a significant step closer to providing people around the world with a much-needed breakthrough to help bring an end to this global health crisis. We are reaching this critical milestone in our vaccine development program at a time when the world needs it most with infection rates setting new records, hospitals, nearing over-capacity and economies struggling to open.”

BioNTeh CEO Professor Ugur Sahin concurred, stating, “Especially today, while we are all in the midst of a second wave and many of us in lockdown, we appreciate even more how important this milestone is on our path towards ending this pandemic and for all of us to regain a sense of normalcy.”

Pfizer has stated that based on current projections they expect to produce globally up to 50 million vaccine doses in 2020 and up to 1.3 billion doses in 2021.

Radhakrishna cautioned however that, “Vaccine infor-mation is exciting but this will not be here soon enough to prevent further infections and illnesses this winter. Measures to control and limit spread of COVID work!” she emphasized. “Wearing a mask, social distancing, hand hygiene, quarantine after exposure and diagnosis are critical.”

How are hospitals gearing up for the new vaccine? 

“We already have a list of our employees and contracted care givers who would have priority,” said Radhakrishna. “We have experience with administration of the influenze vaccine. We will offer the COVID vaccine to hospitalized patients based on risk stratification.”

Her best advice before a vaccine is available? “Vaccinate yourself and family members against influenza and all vaccine preventable illnesses this flu and holiday season. Control diabetes and hypertension. Use Telemedicine, offered by most physician’s offices and covered by most insurances, in order to limit exposure to COVID-infected individuals.”

She acknowledged that, COVID fatigue is a real issue. But we should strive to maintain our guard and avoid illness and deaths. We see a light at the end of this COVID tunnel, but we must exercise patience and continue to follow preventitive measures to limit our exposure and spread of the disease.”