PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Despite weeks of warning from public health officials, COVID-19 numbers in Oregon continue to rise. On Monday, Governor Kate Brown added four more counties to a list of those that will be required to take a two-week pause, starting Wednesday. But, with all this comes some promising news—the drug maker Pfizer announced Monday that their vaccine is 90% effective. KOIN 6 News spoke to state health officials about what this could mean for Oregon families.
The news from Pfizer is based on early and incomplete reports, but it is giving health officials a big boost of optimism.
“We are elated,” said Dr. Joe Sullivan, who described the reaction among his colleagues at the Oregon Health Authority. “The FDA said they would accept or consider a vaccine for emergency use if it was only 50% effective, so the fact that we have a potential 90% effective vaccine is incredible.”
Leaders at Pfizer said Monday that their vaccine is looking to be 90% effective and they’re on track to apply next month for emergency use approval from the FDA.
“This is really good news. It’s the first demonstration that a vaccine will work in humans,” said Dr. Louis Picker with the Oregon Health and Science University. He has spent the last 20 years working to develop an AIDS vaccine. “To be perfectly honest, it is the HIV vaccine effort that led to this. Many of the technologies that are being put forward in the SARSCoV vaccine were first developed in the concept of HIV.”
He explained that while the news from Pfizer was promising, it does not mean a vaccine is imminent.
“This is a little over half done for the trial,” said Picker. He said getting FDA approval is only the first hurdle. “The other hurdle is to manufacture enough doses so it can be distributed—we’re not talking a thousand or ten thousand, or even ten million—we’re talking about a billion doses.”
So, what happens when a vaccine is ready for distribution? How long will it be before families are able to receive it? Right now, public health leaders don’t have a definitive answer.
“There’s going to be a phased rollout and initially, it will be a limited vaccine and people will need to continue to do the common sense things like wear face coverings, social distance, and avoid gatherings with groups for a while,” said Sullivan. “But there’s hope, right. We’re in a lot better place today than we were yesterday.”
What they are certain of: the virus will continue to spread if people don’t follow those safety guidelines. OHA officials also urged people not to have large gatherings for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, saying to keep the event limited to just the members of your immediate household. And if that’s not possible, try not to gather with more than six to 10 people.