S.D. officials forecast early December for COVID-19 vaccine

ILLUSTRATORS with the Innovative Genomics Institute, artists Desiree Ho, Maya Peters Kostman and Phillippa Steinberg, created a drawing collection, including the above illustration, of the COVID-19 virus. The drawing provided by the California-based organization shows the external and internal features of the virus.

South Dakota health officials announced on Tuesday afternoon during a coronavirus mass-vaccination meeting that health-care professionals across the nation expect to have the first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine available during the first half of December.

Officials with the S.D. Department of Health held a distance-connection meeting via Zoom on Tuesday for medical professionals, health-care facility staff members, community leaders and other individuals working on COVID-19 mitigation efforts. According to Kipp Stahl, a state DoH coordinator, the pharmaceutical company Pfizer had recently announced that that its vaccine was "strongly effective" against the coronavirus.

Pfizer, a New York-based company, and its partner BioNTech, a German business, had partnered to make a vaccine based on pieces of the coronavirus' genetic material -- snippets of the virus' mRNA injected into human cells. The Pfizer vaccine would create viral proteins that mimic COVID-19 so that a person's immune system would more-easily recognize the harmful disease.

When health-care professionals reviewed the mass-testing results -- which were taken from 44,000 volunteers involved in the vaccine's testing -- they found that persons who received the Pfizer vaccine experienced more than 90% fewer cases of symptomatic COVID-19 than persons who had received a placebo, or a fake vaccination. The Pfizer vaccine does require that persons receive two injections of the vaccine three weeks apart from each other.

The South Dakota officials reported that Pfizer reported a 90% efficacy for the vaccine. During the vaccine trial, 94 persons contracted COVID-19, but 90 of those individuals were placebo recipients.

Pfizer officials are expected to apply for federal approval of the vaccine during the third week in November. If approved, the state officials expect the first doses of the vaccine to arrive for inoculations late in the first week in December or early during the second week in December. Pfizer officials have said that the company could produce up to 50 million doses of the vaccine by the end of 2020 and 1.3 billion doses could become available in 2021.

At the start of 2020, the United States was estimated to have a population of about 331 million persons.

Due to a limited amount of time to study the Pfizer vaccine, no one knows for how much time it will provide protection against the coronavirus. Researchers have found certain side effects, including body aches and fever, but they believe the side effects are comparable to other vaccines.

The South Dakota officials spoke about how the Pfizer vaccine needs storage at "super-cold" temperatures that other officials have described as ranging from minus 90 to minus 60 degrees Celsius. Pfizer is expected to provide with the vaccine thermal shipping containers that use dry-ice to super-chill the vaccine. The "use protocols" for the thermal containers include:

-- Filling the containers, once they are received, with pelleted dry-ice within 24 hours of their arrival.

-- Only opening the containers twice each day.

-- Replenishing the dry-ice supply every five days with about 23 kilograms, or about 51 pounds, of dry-ice.

-- Recharging the dry-ice supply only three times, one upon arrival and two additional times.

During the Zoom meeting, Stahl said other pharmaceutical companies are developing vaccines that have less-stringent transportation and storage requirements than the Pfizer vaccine.

Moderna Therapeutics, a Massachusetts-based biotech company, is also developing a vaccine based on mRNA technology. Health-care officials expect the Moderna vaccine to arrive in January. Moderna officials are planning to have recipients receive inoculations of the company's vaccine in two doses that are delivered four weeks apart. The Massachusetts company estimates that it can produce 500 million doses annually starting in 2021.

The Moderna vaccine needs storage in a minus 20 degree Celsius shipping container and refrigerated vaccines (at 2 to 8 degrees Celsius) need use within 14 days. At room temperatures, the Moderna vaccine needs use within six hours.

Among several efforts underway to produce a COVID-19 vaccine, The U.S. government has sponsored Operation Warp Speed, funding the initiative with $10 billion of taxpayer money through the CARES Act. Other pharmaceutical companies that are working on vaccines include Johnson & Johnson, Novavaxx, AstraZeneca, Vaccitech, Merck and the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative.

Although Pfizer has announced its participation in Operation Warp Speed, company officials have stated that the company has not spent any federal money on research and development of a vaccine. Operation Warp Speed had paid Pfizer $2 billion to produce 100 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, as part of an advance order, for use in the United States.

During Tuesday's Zoom meeting, South Dakota health officials did not know if any person would need to pay to have a COVID-19 inoculation administered at a vaccination site. The state officials hoped to have more information available in the future about any inoculation costs. As part of a July 22 press release, officials with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced the purchase of 100 million doses of a vaccine and stated, "The vaccine would be available to the American people at no cost. As is customary with government-purchased vaccines, health-care professionals could charge insurers for the cost of administering the vaccine."

U.S. health-care officials have calculated that providers could charge persons $3 to $50 for each coronavirus inoculation. News organizations have reported that Moderna is considering pricing its COVID-19 vaccine at between $50 and $60 per two-dose course in the U.S. after the pandemic emergency ends. Other pharmaceutical companies could set their prices at a similar rate.

The World Health Organization is also coordinating worldwide efforts to develop a vaccine with the goal of delivering 2 billion doses at the end of 2021, according to National Geographic Society reporting.

South Dakota health officials have indicated that certain persons working in essential occupations will receive priority in receiving the first round on inoculations. Those occupations include physicians, nurses, other health-care sector workers, nursing home staff, pharmacists, law-enforcement officers and other first-responders.