Alabama official cautions too much excitement over Pfizer vaccine findings

While Pfizer’s recent announcement of a more than 90% effective coronavirus vaccine candidate sparked hope for many, an Alabama official joins those cautioning over the excitement.

“Even if we find out, in say three to four weeks, that the Pfizer vaccine continues to look good, they continue to analyze the data and… they continue to show there’s safety in the months after getting the vaccine, how many people do you think they are geared up to immunize by the end of the year?” Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, the director of infectious disease division at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Hospital, said at a recent briefing

“Turns out, it’s only going to 10 to 15 million people globally, so that is a tiny drop in the bucket, which is one of the reasons I think we’ve got to keep our hats on about excitement around the vaccine.”

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Pfizer has said it hopes to produce as many as 50 million doses by the end of this year — pending approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — and as many as 1.3 billion in 2021. Following authorization, the vaccine will be given in two doses. 

While the Pfizer vaccine news offers a “ray of hope,” people still need to follow public health measures and look after themselves and communities in the meantime, one expert said. (iStock)

Marrazzo’s comments came shortly before those from Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, who said: “I think the message that I’ve been giving now ever since it became clear a few days ago that we have a really quite effective vaccine getting ready to deploy is rather than ‘Hey, don’t worry, you’re OK,’ it’s ‘Don’t stop shooting, the cavalry is coming but don’t put your weapons down, you better keep fighting because they are not here yet.’

“Help is on the way but it’s not here yet,” Fauci continued.

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On a recent call with reporters, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar said officials have “guaranteed access to 100 million doses, purchased for $1.95 billion, and an option for another 500 million more.”

“Pending FDA authorization as Pfizer has said, distribution for the U.S. has started increments of about 20 million doses per month, potentially beginning in late November,” Azar added.

Marrazzo said Pfizer’s findings have the potential to be “huge,” but said the initial supply of doses won’t be enough to immunize all people at high risk for complications or health care workers.

“Let’s pretend we don’t have a vaccine right now,” she continued. “Just think of it as a ray of hope, a ray of light, it’s a light at the end of the tunnel, but in the meantime, we’ve got to slog through what these current numbers are undoubtedly forecasting…perhaps a surge, even worse after the holidays.”

Marrazzo called the Pfizer news a “hopeful development” but that it shouldn’t change anyone’s behavior regarding taking care of themselves or their communities in the meantime.

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Other experts have made similar comments. 

“It doesn’t mean a ton of changes to the timeline of things,” Dr. Katie Passaretti, medical director of infection prevention at Atrium Health’s Carolinas Medical Center, previously told Fox News, adding that it also doesn’t change the landscape of the several other vaccine candidates currently in development.

“There’s much to know about the vaccine – but at least that piece (on over 90% effectiveness) is a very important one that certainly sounds promising,” Passaretti said.  

Marrazzo’s comments come as Alabama has seen a surge in coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths. On Wednesday, the state reported 1,210 hospitalized patients — up from 1,174 on Monday. Marrazzo said the state’s seven-day daily average of cases is 1,416, which marks a 13% increase over the last seven days. Alabama’s total reported cases top 206,000, with over 3,100 deaths.

Marrazzo’s comments come as Alabama has seen a surge in coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths. (iStock)

Marrazzo’s comments come as Alabama has seen a surge in coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths. (iStock)

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“One interesting thing about the state, I think is notable, is that these numbers are happening even in the context of what most of us would say is suboptimal testing,” Marrazzo said, adding that the state is only averaging about 7,000 tests day, a figure she would like to see exceed 10,000.

Alabama’s inadequate testing is a complicated issue, she said, theorizing that, despite health officials’ efforts, perhaps people may not know where to get tested, and asymptomatic cases may not be seeking testing and not all tests — such as antigen tests — are reported to the state health department.

Fox News’ Alexandria Hein, Chris Ciaccia and Madeline Farber contributed to this report.

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