Coronavirus vaccine could be available in late December, Gayles says

COVID-19 vaccine could be available locally by end of year, county health official says

First responders, vulnerable residents, health care workers will be priority

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Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles pictured at a press conference on March 12.

File photo

A COVID-19 vaccine could be coming to Montgomery County as early as late December, according to Dr. Travis Gayles, the county’s health officer.

Pfizer and Moderna have both reported in November that they have produced vaccines that are 90% and 95% effective, respectively. The federal Food and Drug Administration has not approved any vaccines for use yet.

Gayles said at a media briefing on Wednesday that the vaccine would be distributed in phases. The first phase would focus on first responders, health care workers, essential workers, and residents with increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19, such as those with underlying medical conditions and people at least 65 years old.

On Oct. 16, the Maryland Department of Health released its vaccination plan and detailed that the second phase would be widescale distribution of a vaccine. A third phase would be continued vaccination and a shift to a routine strategy.

The beginning of Phase 2 would depend on the availability of a vaccine, authorization from federal or state authorities, and if the targeted vaccination for Phase 1 groups has been reached.

Most COVID-19 vaccines under development will require two doses separated by more than 21 or 28 days. Some require certain refrigeration levels.

Gayles said the county is assessing the capacity for refrigeration storage of vaccines.

Novavax, a clinical stage vaccine company based in Gaithersburg, is currently developing a coronavirus vaccine. It is planning to expand into a new 122,000-square-foot research and development and manufacturing facility in Gaithersburg.

Novavax was awarded up to $1.6 billion from the federal government through Operation Warp Speed for late-stage clinical development, large-scale manufacturing and delivery of 100 million vaccine doses as early as late 2020.

The company also received an additional $388 million from the International Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, as well as $60 million from a U.S. Department of Defense contract for vaccine production.

County Executive Marc Elrich said during Wednesday’s briefing that the state is seeing an “avalanche” of COVID-19 spread and that more businesses and activities will need to be shut down eventually.

Gayles would not go into details of what future potential restrictions could be in store.

“We have discussed a few preliminary steps in response to some of the actions that the other jurisdictions have taken, including for social gatherings, for indoor settings — taking that and moving that from 25 to 10 [people maximum],” he said, adding that officials are also considering a mandate for wearing masks outdoors.

Elrich said he would like to see Gov. Larry Hogan bring the state back as close to Phase 1 as possible.

“I would like to go back to a strategy that drove the numbers down,” he said.

Elrich said he would like capacity for businesses reduced to 25% across the state.

“This situation will be worse two weeks from now than it is today,” he said. “At some point, the governor is going to have to do something more. … The longer you wait, the more you’ve got the virus out there.”

In preparation for the second surge, the county has stockpiled about 13 million masks, 395 million pairs of gloves, 669,000 surgical gowns and suits, and 218,000 units of hand sanitizer.

“We are not in the situation that we were when the virus hit the first time in not being able to provide things that could make us safer,” he said. “We just don’t have a treatment and we don’t have a vaccine. We’ve done as much as we think we can do.”

Hospitals are trying to find more staff members to prepare for any additional need because of the surge in cases, Elrich said.

“Staffing continues to be a significant issue for hospitals. They have capacity and they have more rooms, but they need additional staff to support the expansion,” he said.

On Tuesday, the county, state and medical providers tested a record number of 2,900 people in one day, Elrich said.

Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at briana.adhikusuma@bethesdamagazine.com.

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