COVID vaccine approved by advisory panel

An advisory panel has given their stamp of approval to Pfizer's COVID vaccine. The innoculations can start as soon as the FDA gives the go-ahead.

It may be the most hopeful day in the U.S. since the beginning of the pandemic: On Thursday, a panel of advisors recommended the Food and Drug Administration approve emergency use authorization for a COVID-19 vaccine produced by Pfizer and German biotech company BioNTech.

The FDA is likely to follow the panel’s recommendations, at which point Pfizer is set to begin delivering hundreds-of-thousands of doses of the vaccine all over the U.S.

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About the Vaccine: Pfizer’s product would be the first of a new type of vaccine. Rather than introduce weakened versions of a virus into the body to teach the immune system, as all previous vaccines have done, Pfizer’s vaccine contains small bits of genetic code. That genetic code teaches human cells to produce chemicals like those that surround the COVID-19 virus.

Due to the nature of the vaccine, doses must be kept extremely cold – far below the temperature of standard freezers. That means Pfizer will ship vials of the vaccine with enough dry ice to keep them frozen for the duration of their journey.

On the other end, health departments, pharmacies, and others must keep the vaccine cold until it is ready to be injected. That requires ultra low temperature freezers. Kalamazoo County and WMU’s medical school have already set up appropriate storage units.

Those being vaccinated for COVID-19 must receive two doses about three weeks apart.

Distribution: There will be a limited number of vaccines available once the FDA gives its approval. Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services expects to receive 84,825 doses of the vaccine in the first batch. That’s enough to inoculate more than 42,000 people – still far short of the number that will be needed to reach herd immunity and allow us to return to normal life.

Because there will be limited doses of the vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is prescribing who should get the first doses. At the front of the line are health care workers and those living or working on long-term care facilities such as nursing homes.

There are an estimated 602,000 health care workers in Michigan, which means the first round of vaccines should be used up pretty quickly by frontline workers. Bronson Methodist Hospital is already preparing to deliver the first doses of the vaccine to its employees, according to WWMT.

It is likely the majority of Michigan’s population won’t get access to the vaccine until much later – perhaps not until late spring or early summer.

Local Connection: It is a point of pride for Kalamazoo County residents that much of the vaccine production is being done right here. Pfizer’s Building 41, located in Portage, is the center of part of the vaccine manufacturing process.

Elected officials says the vaccine production raises the profile of the area, according to MLive.

“Science is coming to save us and I can’t praise the scientists enough for their ability to do this,” said State Senator Sean McCann. “It’s here in our community with this heritage going back to the Upjohn Company that has evolved through and stayed with us with the manufacturing facilities in town.”

Kalamazoo was home to Upjohn for decades before it merged with drug-maker Pharmacia, which was then bought by Pfizer.

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