UCHealth coronavirus vaccine trials continue as hospitals prepare for mass vaccination
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Early results from clinical trials have shown that vaccines may be nearly 95% effective in preventing the transmission of COVID-19.
An independent safety and data monitoring board reported this week that early results from the Moderna Phase 3 clinical trials show the company’s vaccine was 94.5% effective.
That news followed equally positive preliminary results on Nov. 9 from Pfizer showing that the coronavirus vaccine that Pfizer developed with German drugmaker BioNTech looks to be safe and more than 90% effective in preventing COVID-19 transmission.
While Phase 3 trials continue, Moderna and Pfizer are expected to ask the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency approval for their new vaccines later in the coming weeks.
Coronavirus vaccine trials
The news from Moderna and Pfizer bodes well for the beginning the end of the COVID-19 pandemic and for other coronavirus vaccines. Two of them – the Moderna and Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine – are in late-stage clinical trials at UCHealth.
“These early results are very exciting – they demonstrate very high efficacy in the short term, and the results in the Moderna study are very consistent with the results of the Pfizer study we heard about last week,” said Dr. Thomas Campbell, the University of Colorado School of Medicine and UCHealth virologist and infectious-disease specialist who leads the Moderna trial at UCHealth. “So we have two independent scientific experiments that are analyzing two very similar vaccine strategies that give us very high confidence that these results are real.”
“It’s important to continue, because we need to know both longer-term safety and efficacy,” he said.
‘Good immunity’ in studied coronavirus vaccines
The similarity between the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines also should extend to the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, says Dr. Gary Luckasen, who is leading the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine trial at UCHealth’s northern Colorado hospitals.
Both the Moderna and Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines introduce SARS-CoV-2 spike proteins to the body just as Pfizer’s vaccine does. But rather than inject SARS-CoV-2 spike proteins directly, the vaccines deliver genetic instructions via messenger RNA, or mRNA, that make their way into shoulder-muscle cells near the injection site. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines deliver the genetic instructions to muscle cells in tiny fatty envelopes; the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine does so using a weakened common-cold virus called an adenovirus. Once in the muscle cells, the mRNA instructs those cells to produce SARS-CoV-2 spike proteins that then trigger the immune response.
Experts estimate that, assuming no surprises, the general public will be in line for COVID-19 vaccination late in the second quarter or early in the third quarter of 2021 (this assumes that health care workers, essential workers and those at high risk for serious disease are vaccinated earlier).
The biggest hurdle facing the widespread distribution of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine will be that it must be stored at minus-94 degrees Fahrenheit. Once thawed out, the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine keeps for about five days in a refrigerator. The system ensuring that vaccines maintain safe temperature from manufacture to injection is known as the cold chain.
The Moderna vaccine and Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines will be easier on the cold chain storage. They can be stored and shipped at minus-4 degrees Fahrenheit, a temperature that standard freezers can manage. Also other vaccines in development, including ones from Johnson & Johnson and Novavax, can be stored and shipped above freezing at standard-refrigerator temperatures.
Other wrinkles: Pfizer plans to ship the COVID-19 vaccine in multi-dose vials, meaning UCHealth must take care to have patients lined up promptly once a vial comes out of deep freeze. UCHealth facilities in Greeley, Steamboat Springs, and Colorado Springs will store COVID-19 vaccine caches for the state (and not just UCHealth). Given the need for a booster, UCHealth must ensure that, once a patient receives the initial dose, the booster’s availability three or four weeks out is guaranteed. That will take good record keeping, which UCHealth’s Epic electronic medical record will help manage, said Nancy Stolpman, UCHealth’s director of pharmacy. That recordkeeping will extend to reporting to the Colorado Immunization Information System, she adds.
UCHealth teams are working on what will, if all goes well on the vaccine-development front, be a true vaccination mobilization. It’s a lot of work amid great uncertainty, Stolpman says, but it’s a great problem to have during a pandemic.
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While the state of Colorado will receive much less in vaccines in the second major rollout than expected, Moffat County continues to roll along vaccinating community members with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.