UIHC doctors ‘cautiously optimistic’ about initial Pfizer COVID vaccine results

Published: Nov. 9, 2020 at 11:01 PM CST
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Doctors at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics said Monday’s report from Pfizer, announcing its COVID-19 vaccine was more than 90% effective, is a promising sign as companies race to develop, test, and distribute an effective immunization in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

“To see that it’s 90% effective is wonderful,” Dr. Patricia Winokur, executive dean of Carver College of Medicine at the University of Iowa, said, noting the efficacy of the influenza vaccine is usually between 50% and 70%. “And absolutely, I will be in line to get that vaccine if I’m prioritized.”

Winokur served as principal investigator for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine trial at the University of Iowa, in which about 270 people participated. During the trial, which began in July, about half of the group received the vaccine in two doses, while the other half received two doses of a placebo. More than 43,000 people were part of the study nationwide.

Ashley Vanorny, a member of the Cedar Rapids City Council who works in healthcare administration, participated in the trial at UIHC. After receiving the second dose, she experienced some symptoms, which she said were “very bearable,” including chills, a mild fever, and muscle aches and pains.

“I feel pretty confident that I was given the actual vaccine, and I can say that, having gone through it, I’m happy to put myself on the line and be a beta tester,” Vanorny said.

Winokur said, based on Pfizer’s initial efficacy findings, the vaccine should benefit even the people who don’t initially receive it.

“The fact that it’s that high does mean that it will start to have an impact on kind of truncating that curve and flattening the curve faster with fewer people immunized,” Winokur said.

Pfizer said it is still collecting the final safety data from its trial that it will need to report to the FDA, which the company said should be complete around Thanksgiving.

Winokur said it should take the FDA a few weeks to review the data, so she believes December would be the earliest the FDA could grant emergency use authorization to the Pfizer vaccine before it’s distributed.

UIHC said it’s too early to know how many of these vaccines might come to Iowa, saying the Iowa Department of Public Health and local health departments will determine who gets a vaccine and when. Dr. Mike Brownlee, who’s co-leading a committee overseeing the overall management of COVID-19 vaccination at UIHC, said healthcare workers treating COVID-positive patients will get first priority.

“It’s going to be a while before we have vaccinations for a large number of individuals in our community,” Brownlee said.

As a result of that, Brownlee said the habits people have developed because of the pandemic can’t change just yet.

“We can’t reinforce more the need to still wear masks, socially distance, wash your hands appropriately, because this is going to be a long process,” Brownlee said.

While the hospital doesn’t know how many vials of the vaccine it will receive, UIHC is preparing. Brownlee said the hospital recently bought four freezers that will allow them to store several hundred thousand doses.

The vaccine trial has faced some skepticism from the public because of its expedited process.

“I’ve done a lot of vaccine trials over the years, and this is fast, but a lot of the safety is exactly the way that we follow any vaccine candidate, so it is not as slipshod as some would make you think,” Winokur said.

Vanorny has participated in several research studies at the University of Iowa and said the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine trial didn’t seem any different.

“That gives me hope that this isn’t being rushed, that there isn’t anything that is being overlooked, and that it’s going to be safe,” Vanorny said.

Though she already received her two doses during the summer, Vanorny is still an active participant in the two-year trial and has to log how she’s feeling once a week into a Pfizer app.

“They’re basically asking you the same screening questions you might get if you’re going to any healthcare facility — do you have a headache, do you have any flu- or cold-like symptoms, do you have problems breathing?” Vanorny said

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