Gov. J.B. Pritzker recently outlined in broad strokes the state’s plan for distributing a COVID-19 vaccine once such a vaccine is approved by federal regulators.
Without an actual vaccine ready, the governor only offered insight into who would receive the first wave of vaccines once available, NPR reported. The at-risk population, including healthcare workers and the elderly, will be among the first to whom the vaccine will be offered.
“The challenge of designing a plan now, of course, is that there's so much about the vaccines that we don't know,” Pritzker said during a news conference. “The most defining characteristic of this plan is that it's adjustable as we go forward and learn more.”
Health Department advisor and infectious disease specialist Dr. Don Graham said that the timeline for distribution will most likely not be available until early 2021.
He said vaccine developers are currently gathering data from volunteers who have taken the vaccine and are going about their daily life.
“But what’s being done now is to look to see if the antibody levels that are seen in the people who are volunteer subjects for vaccine testing – we’re looking to see now if those antibody levels are enough to protect against the disease,” Graham said.
Once testing is complete, the FDA will have to evaluate the data to ensure the final vaccine is effective and safe, Graham said.
“That kind of evaluation will take quite a bit of time; months and months to be sure,” he said.
With a vaccine likely a year or more out, infection numbers will continue to grow, which begs the question whether a vaccine will even be useful eventually. Graham said they are still studying the coronavirus to understand if those infected gain persistent immunity or not.
“COVID is another frankly unknown at this point whether you can get a second case of COVID,” he said. “The CDC is trying to maintain a registry of people who may possibly have had second cases of COVID, and of course this is not limited to the United States, so other countries are keeping track of that too, but we really don’t know.”
Regardless, Graham said about 97% of the population has yet to be infected. He doesn’t expect that number to change enough to affect the efficacy of developing a vaccine.
“I think that the number of people who have had COVID will still be a tiny minority of the entire population,” he said.
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