After more than 15 million confirmed cases and more than 290,000 deaths across the country, emergency use authorization for a COVID vaccine is nearly here.
The panel overwhelmingly found the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks for patients 16 and older.
Deep in the second wave of the deadly virus, those doses can’t come quick enough for health care heroes at local hospitals, including Holy Name Medical Center in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.
“Ideally sometime next week we would expect to get that phone call. Sometimes it’s a, it could be the same day and say, ‘Hey, we’re, we’re on our way. And we’re going to be bringing you product,’” said Nancy Palamara of Holy Name Medical Center.
Hackensack University Medical Center in Hackensack, New Jersey, has been preparing for weeks.
“It certainly gives us a sense of relief, a sense of security that we’ll receive the vaccine and we’ll have that level of protection,” said Mark Sparta, president of Hackensack University Medical Center.
While they don’t know how much of the vaccine they’ll get, they can store about 4,000 doses in a special ultra-cold Pfizer freezer.
“It needs to be at minus-70 degrees, which is much colder than any of the other vaccines,” Sparta told CBS2’s Jessica Layton.
That’s because the technology in the COVID vaccine is fragile, so the extreme temperature is needed to prevent the ingredients from breaking down.
The Hackensack system has 36,000 workers, so they’re trying to figure out exactly which team members get vaccinated first. Vaccinations could begin early next week.
WATCH: FDA Advisory Committee Discusses Pfizer Vaccine Approval
In New York City, Mount Sinai is eager for distribution, first to its own front line workers, then later to the public.
“We’re hopeful that instead of having COVID-19 testing pods, we’re gonna have the vaccination pod,” Susan Mashni, with Mount Sinai Health System, told CBS2’s Andrea Grymes.
UPS and FedEx will launch a nationwide operation to deliver the doses, but Dr. Mark Mulligan, the director of NYU Langone Health Vaccine Center, warns while this news is a major step forward, there’s still a long way to go.
“Not an on/off switch where all of a sudden, you know, we’re going to see a dramatic change, but the idea that over time, as we vaccinate more and more people, we will ultimately, maybe by mid-year next year, 2021, achieve herd immunity,” Mulligan said.
Four panel members did vote no, citing not enough data on how the vaccine affects 16- and 17-year-olds, wanting to raise the age to 18.
The FDA is expected to give final approval, keeping in mind unanswered questions on the effects for pregnant women and those with severe allergies.
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“We believe our data has satisfied the EUA requirements for a COVID-19 vaccine,” said Dr. Kathrin Jansen of Pfizer.
Officials from Pfizer spoke Thursday during the FDA advisory committee meeting. Scientists say their two-dose vaccine is 95% effective, with no major side effects.
“With a high efficacy and good safety for our vaccine and the pandemic essentially out of control, vaccine introduction is an urgent need,” Dr. Jansen said.
Commissioner Stephen Hahn spoke Thursday on CBS This Morning.
“We do a very careful line by line by line review to answer the very important scientific questions. If our career scientists say that the vaccine is safe and effective, I have complete confidence in that decision and I think the American people should, as well,” he said.
He said they’re also working very closely with their U.K. partners, who say people with severe allergies should not get the Pfizer vaccine.
Of course, Pfizer is only the beginning. This same FDA committee will meet next week to vote on the Moderna vaccine.
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