RI healthcare researchers and professionals await COVID vaccine, call it a ‘game-changer’

G. Wayne MillerThe Providence Journal

PROVIDENCE – As they continued to absorb news that a COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer proved more than 90% effective in a clinical trial, prominent scientists, doctors and others in Rhode Island expressed growing confidence that the vaccine, along with others in development, could help contain the pandemic sooner rather than later.

And once safety is firmly established, these experts said, they will be vaccinated without hesitation. Pfizer in its announcement said no safety issues had surfaced.

 “There’s a ray of hope now that we have a vaccine that appears to be, based on this early data, highly effective,” said Dr. Leonard A. Mermel, medical director, epidemiology and infection control, at Rhode Island Hospital and a Brown University professor, during a video interview with The Journal.

That data, Mermel said, was “beyond the expectations of many,” a point also made by Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, in his weekly Journal/USA TODAY Network podcast on Tuesday. Sixty to 70% effectiveness would have been “great,” Jha declared.

Mermel said that if Monday’s reported effectiveness is “borne out with an appropriate safety profile and manufacturing continues to be ramped up, it just brings optimism to an otherwise scary situation. And I’m hopeful that it will be appropriately distributed to those most in need and have a real impact in mitigating risk and transmission.”

Dr. Karen Tashima, a clinical researcher at Miriam Hospital, an infectious disease professor at Brown, and a member of the state’s COVID-19 Vaccine Subcommittee, described the news as “the moment we’ve been waiting for.”

Tashima expressed hope that the Pfizer vaccine and others “will really help turn the tide against the infection. If we have enough people vaccinated, it will prevent deaths, will prevent the spread of infection. We’re really in the middle of another surge, and we need to do what we can to tamp that down in a big way. This could be the game-changer.”

The Rev. Chris Abhulime, pastor of the The King’s Tabernacle in Johnston and also a member of the vaccine subcommittee, told The Journal that he has faith in the science behind vaccines that reputable firms are developing.

“From a drug development perspective,” he said, “the scientists who work on vaccines and other drug products in pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer are professionals who are guided by ethical practices and company reputation. Besides, prior to product release, a rigorous peer review of clinical data and regulatory approval will be sought by Pfizer and other companies.”

According to a draft version of the Rhode Island Department of Health’s COVID-19 Vaccination Plan, the vaccine will be rolled out in three phases.

“Phase 1 could include groups like high-risk healthcare workers, people with two or more simultaneous health conditions, and people in nursing homes,” Health Department spokesman Joseph Wendelken wrote in an email to The Journal. “Phase 2 may include teachers and school staff, childcare providers, workers in high-risk settings, all older adults, and others. Phase 3 would likely include groups like young adults, children, and many other groups.”

Following guidance from the Health Department and federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Rhode Island’s hospitals are adopting polices for their employees. As of this writing, it appears that employees will be encouraged but not required to be vaccinated.

At Roger Williams Medical Center and Our Lady of Fatima Hospital, part of the CharterCARE system, policy is taking direction from the system’s corporate parent, Prospect Medical, spokesman Otis Brown wrote in an email to The Journal….READ MORE

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