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As Early COVID-19 Vaccine Trials Show Promise, Experts Warn Iowans Will Need To Wait

National Cancer Institute
University of Iowa experts warn Iowans will need to wait for a COVID-19 vaccine following promising results from a vaccine trial.

Drug maker Pfizer announced Monday that early results of its COVID-19 vaccine trial shows it’s more than 90 percent effective, but University of Iowa experts say it could still be awhile before the vaccine is widely distributed.

University of Iowa experts say Iowans will need to wait awhile before they can get a COVID-19 vaccine. This comes as drug maker Pfizer announced Monday that early analysis of its vaccine trial shows it’s more than 90 percent effective.

The results were obtained through an ongoing trial with 44,000 participants, including about 270 people enrolled through the University of Iowa.

But University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine Executive Dean Pat Winokur, who oversees UI’s trial, said while the early results are promising, the FDA likely won’t authorize emergency use of the vaccine until at least December.

Winokur said Pfizer still needs to submit its final safety data to the FDA.

"When you're looking at what FDA has told the companies that they have to see," she said. "They have to see the data for safety, when at least half the people have gotten their second dose and have been followed for two months."

Winokur says its possible more than one vaccine will get approval as drug maker Moderna is also in late stages of vaccine trials and uses a similar technology to the Pfizer vaccine.

But she said even when the vaccines get approval, distribution could be slow.

"There won't be wide distribution of numbers of doses for a while though," she said. "That's going to take a while for both companies to ramp up production."

Winokur called the Pfizer study's preliminary results "very good," saying the 90 percent mark has exceeded researchers' aspirations.

"So influenza, for example, the vaccine that most of us, especially in health care, take every year has a vaccine efficacy of 50 to 70 percent," she said. "Okay, so this is much better than that. And we were worried — we had hoped there would be at least 50 to 70 percent. To see that it's 90 percent effective is wonderful."

The news comes as Iowa continues to see record levels of new COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations. Sunday night, the state reported more than 1,000 Iowans were hospitalized with the first for the first time during the pandemic.

The Iowa Department of Public Health is in charge of distributing the vaccine. A draft of the plan dated Oct. 16 says the state agency will work with local health departments to distribute the vaccine in a "phased approach," starting with the most vulnerable populations. The report says "IDPH intends to follow federal guidance for vaccine prioritization unless needs in Iowa are substantially different."

Winokur said until the vaccine is widely available, it's important Iowans continue to follow mitigation efforts.

"It's really important to continue with the face masks and social distancing, and hand washing. It's because it's going to take us a while to get as many people vaccinated as we need to to start controlling the spread of this disease," she said.