Maryland, Baltimore get ready for first COVID-19 vaccine doses

Posted at 6:08 PM, Dec 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-08 07:34:40-05

BALTIMORE (WMAR) — This week, the FDA will evaluate the first COVID-19 vaccine for Emergency Use Authorization, from Pfizer.

In anticipation of its approval, today, state and local health officials spoke about how they are getting ready.

Johns Hopkins experts believe millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses could be available by the end of the month. Maryland will get 155,000 in the first round, which won’t even be enough to cover all front line healthcare workers.

"Initially it will be about what’s the risk for health for individuals and also with health care workers who are caring for those high risk individuals," said Dr. Jinlene Chan, Acting Deputy Secretary of Public Health Services for the Maryland Department of Health.

As we get more doses, they will also go to first responders and then move into phase two.

"Phase two are those critical infrastructure and essential workers, and first among those for consideration is teachers and education. We know what the impact has been educationally on children and we know that that's an important group," said Dr. Chan.

And in preparation for more doses, Dr. Chan said the state department of health is working on building a vaccine information system.

"Which we will use at the local health departments to both schedule patients but also then to send out reminders to bring them back and it will all help us track to make sure they get not only the first dose but the right second dose because it has to be the same vaccine the second time around as well," said Dr. Chan.

Something Baltimore City health officials are focusing on is reaching high risk populations in the meantime, looking to trusted community partners like the Baltimore Health Corps program to help with messaging and identifying people who need the vaccine.

"We do have this additional work force to help with identifying those individuals based on the data we keep on co-morbidities and underlying health conditions for our population," said Dr. Letitia Dzirasa, Commissioner of the Baltimore City Health Department. "I think it will also be very important that we are honest and transparent about what we know about the vaccine. About what we know about its efficacy, its safety and its short term benefits and acknowledge there are things that we don’t know."

Among the things we don’t know is how long immunity lasts, but Dr. William Moss, executive director of the International Vaccine Access Center, is optimistic it will last a few years because the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines both require two doses.

"It’s called a prime boost strategy where you prime the immune system and then boost the immune response with the second dose and it’s possible that that’s going to produce longer duration of protection, better protection than certainly a mild infection with COVID-19," said Dr. Moss.

The FDA is meeting Thursday to evaluate the Pfizer trial data and then one week later to evaluate Moderna and they are expected to authorize for emergency use shortly after.