MILWAUKEE - As the world waits for a coronavirus vaccine, UW Health is among 80 hospitals nationwide participating in the final phase of the AstraZeneca trial.
“Getting rid of this worldwide pandemic is getting the vaccine,” said Dr. William Hartman, UW Health’s principal investigator of the trial.
In other countries, the AstraZeneca injection has been shown to create COVID-19 neutralizing antibodies. The focus of its two-year study is how long those antibodies last.
“Who stays immune and who stays immune the longest,” explained Hartman.
If effective in reducing COVID-19 cases by at least 50 percent and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the AstraZeneca vaccine could be released before its study is over.
“I think we're moving a little more briskly and a bit more efficiently but it's not like corners are being cut,” said Dr. Jim Conway of the UW Health Immunization program. “Only when the science is clear does the FDA even get a shot at reviewing it.”
Dr. Jim Conway
Conway says we may end up with a dozen different vaccines available at the same time. The first vaccines may be available by the end of 2020.
“I think getting it into the general population will take well into 2021,” said Conway.
Wisconsin DHS action plan
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) is making a similar prediction. In its COVID-19 Vaccination Plan, it says multiple vaccines from different manufacturers may be available at the same time.
DHS also says immunity is likely to require two doses, either 21 or 28 days apart.
“I think it's pretty clear that health workers are probably that first wave,” said Conway.
Also included in Wisconsin’s first phase of distribution are people over age 65, those living in long-term care facilities, and other essential workers.
Phase two of distribution includes other critical populations -- and eventually the general public in phase three.
To administer the vaccine, hospitals will need enough needles, syringes, and alcohol prep pads. Two of the most promising vaccines, from Pfizer and Moderna, also require ultra-cold storage in minus 80-degree Celsius freezers.
“Your average place out in the communities doesn't have access to those kinds of freezers,” said Conway.
UW Health is still seeking another 1,000 volunteers for its trial from all racial and ethnic backgrounds. It hopes to eventually be doing 25 injections per day.
“It's an awesome experience. This is something that encompasses everyone in the world right now,” said Hartman.
The DHS plan says the vaccine will be “procured and distributed by the federal government” at no cost to providers or patients.
Conway predicts every person will need to be vaccinated to see a complete return to life as it was pre-COVID-19.
He says that could take until 2023 or longer if people refuse the vaccine or there are supply shortages.