The Santa Barbara County public health officer has called Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine “a game changer” if its effectiveness remains true.
“It’s very, very promising,” Dr. Henning Ansorg told the News-Press Tuesday. “I’m very excited about it.”
But he noted, “I’m taking it with a grain of salt.
“These are preliminary data,” he said, referring to Pfizer’s report of more than 90% effectiveness during its trial.
The New York City pharmaceutical company reported 94 confirmed COVID-19 infections among the trial’s more than 43,000 participants. Pfizer and BioNTech, its partner in the vaccine development, said the split between those who received the vaccine and got a placebo indicates a 90%-plus efficacy rate at seven days after the second dose.
“Even if it ends up to be only 75% in the real world, it would be a game changer,” Dr. Ansorg said.
The trial needs to continue until at least 164 participants get sick with one symptom of the coronavirus.
And patients in the trial need to be checked two months afterward to make sure there are no adverse effects, Dr. Ansorg said. “So far nobody has (had adverse effects), which is great.”
Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former Food and Drug Administration commissioner and a member of Pfizer’s board, told CNBC that the vaccine could be available in limited use as early as late December. He expects it to be widely available by the third quarter of 2021.
Dr. Ansorg noted that Pfizer hasn’t received FDA approval yet. “That will take at least until early December.”
Pfizer has said it could ask the FDA by the end of November for emergency authorization of the vaccine. Over the summer, the U.S. government placed a $2 billion order for 100 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine.
Dr. Ansorg said the vaccine realistically could be available for certain population groups around the start of January. He noted healthcare workers, first responders and seniors in nursing homes would be among the first to get the doses.
Dr. Ansorg said his hope would be that a significant number of the at-large population could be vaccinated by summer 2021.
He noted one hurdle is that the Pfizer vaccine, BNT162b2, has to be stored at -94 degrees Fahrenheit. That would require special freezers.
“But there are nine different vaccines in the human trial phases,” Dr. Ansorg said. “We’re hoping by early 2021, we will probably have competitors, that it won’t be just Pfizer. I’m hoping there will be ones that won’t require this deep freezing, ones that smaller (medical) offices will go for.”
He added he would like to see a COVID-19 vaccine be distributed to hospitals, urgent care centers, primary care physicians, pharmacies, skilled nursing facilities, EMTs and paramedics. He noted there would be vaccination clinics and events.
“We will go out of our way to make it easily available to people, so they don’t have to make an appointment with their doctor and wait six weeks,” Dr. Ansorg said.
He said the county public health department is discussing the COVID-19 pandemic in meetings every two to three weeks with entities such as Cottage Health, Sansum Clinic, Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics, Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria and Lompoc Valley Medical Center.
“We discuss the latest updates on vaccinations and how to best successfully implement them in Santa Barbara County,” Dr. Ansorg said. “We have really good cooperation.”
For now, Santa Barbara County remains in the red tier for COVID cases.
“Our case rates are staying above the threshold” for moving into the less severe, orange tier, Dr. Ansorg said. “They have to drop below four cases per 100,000 people per day. We’re still at 4.6.
“I think people have COVID fatigue,” Dr Ansorg said, but added, “The best thing everyone can do is wear your masks, stay six feet away and don’t go to parties. Those are super spreader events. They’re nightmares in the making.
“The most powerful tools we have is social distancing and wearing a mask,” Dr. Ansorg said. “If we would do that, we could reach the orange tier in a couple weeks.”
Physicians, such as Dr. Ansorg, have also urged people to do something simple but effective: Wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.