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La. public health officials deep into planning for vaccine distribution; Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine could be 90% effective

Published: Nov. 9, 2020 at 8:04 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - As Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine shows a lot of promise, Louisiana’s health department and New Orleans' health department chief say they have been working for months on plans related to whatever vaccines are approved.

Pfizer announced that an early look at data for its coronavirus vaccine suggests the vaccine maybe 90 percent effective in preventing the virus.

Dr. Jennifer Avegno, Director of the New Orleans Health Department, responded to the news during a city hall press conference.

“It’s very preliminary but they’ve been one of the leading candidates for a while and really have taken the lead in doing some good work to ensure everyone that this is going to be a scientific approach, it’s not going to be rushed and we’re going to do the right thing,” said Avegno.

Dr. Joseph Kanter is interim Assistant Secretary of Public Health within the Louisiana Department of Health. He said the Pfizer news is encouraging.

“It’s good news, there’s no question about that,” said Kanter.

He says the state is deep into its planning with the federal government related to getting FDA approved vaccines to the public.

“We’re working very closely with Operation Warp Speed which is a partnership on the federal level between the CDC and the Department of Defense,” said Kanter.

Kanter said the state has also put forth a written plan to the federal government.

“We’ve submitted a formal plan, called a playbook, and are in the process of reviewing that with the CDC and revising it. It will be a living document and we’re gearing up for what we are terming Phase 1-A, so the initial rounds of vaccine when they become available will at first be made available likely to the highest risk individuals, frontline healthcare workers, and then high-risk patients after that,” said Kanter.

Avegno said the city is coordinating with the state.

“We’ve been working with the state planning this for months now,” said Avegno.

She agrees with Kanter that vaccines will not initially be available to everyone who wants a shot.

“The first people, whether it’s New Orleans or anywhere else, who will receive vaccines are going to be high-risk healthcare workers and then likely high-risk individuals like nursing home residents and everybody understands why,” said Avegno.

Kanter thinks mid-summer 2021 is when a vaccine might be widely distributed to the general public.

Avegno said through the federal government Walgreens and CVS will help to administer coronavirus vaccines. She said the New Orleans Health Department expects to dispense any COVID vaccines it receives in much the same way coronavirus testing is done.

“What we envision is very much how we’ve run our community-based testing strategy, so drive-thru, walk-up, deliberately in neighborhoods with maybe a lot of people who don’t have a car,” Avegno stated.

Through SciLine, FOX 8 also spoke to Dr. Richard Webby, a faculty member in the Infectious Diseases Department at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital about the importance of vaccines. Webby also directs the World Health Organization’s Centre for Studies on the Ecology of Influenza in Animals and Birds.

He noted that it is a challenging time as COVID-19 persists and the annual flu season has begun.

“Both in their own right can cause a lot of people to have to go to [the] hospital and unfortunately they both kill a lot of people, as well,” said Webby.

He said both viruses can cause severe illness especially in people with underlying health conditions.

“So, those people with chronic underlying heart disease, chronic underlying lung disease, obesity, they’ll set you up for more severe COVID-19 and also, unfortunately, more severe influenza as well,” said Webby.

Kanter said coronavirus headlines aside, the public should let its guard down in terms of precautions, including mask-wearing and social distancing.

“No single vaccine is going to be a panacea here, so when we hear news that Pfizer might be 90 effective so to say, I think it’s good to be encouraged about that but we should not be changing anything that we’re doing,” said Kanter.

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