Disease specialists urge confidence in COVID-19 vaccine process

The first COVID-19 vaccine shots will likely be in the arms of Americans later this month. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is reviewing Pfizer's application for emergency use next, with a review of Moderna's to follow closely.

Large segments of the population are already reporting skepticism about getting the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available. Health experts are urging those who are on the fence about safety to have confidence in the process.

"We’re seeing numbers as high as 42% of people -- in communities of color, we’re seeing over 75% -- will not accept during an EAU authorization," Jim Conway, medical director of the UW Health immunization program, said.

Disease specialists with the University of Wisconsin-Madison are urging people to have confidence in the FDA's approval process.

"The FDA gives full attention to the safety and efficacy. They are not cutting corners with this," said Jon Temte, medical director for Public Health Madison & Dane County.

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Once approved, the vaccines will also be monitored for any long-term side effects. Doctors say it is much more likely to see a negative reaction in the first several weeks after a vaccine is administered. The research shows that that is not happening.

"You get out of that window and immune-induced side effects are very, very, very rare after that point in time," Temte said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that frontline health care workers and long-term care residents receive the first doses. As manufacturing ramps up, other essential workers and at-risk groups will be next in line. The general public won't be eligible until more safety data are reviewed.

"All of the companies are committed, as they gather more safety data in larger and larger populations, that they will start doing studies in immunocompromised patients," said Conway. "Pfizer has gotten permission to now do 12-16-year-old...So this is a gradual process where they will continue to add in other segments of the population."

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The current COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials are each using at least 30,000 participants -- a sample size much larger than most other vaccine clinical trials.

Experts say it is another promising sign that this vaccine's potential side effects are being tested on a diverse population.

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Initial estimates indicate that Wisconsin will receive 50,000 vaccine shots in the first week once a vaccine is approved.

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If approved, hundreds of millions of doses will already be available. State and local leaders must now determine who will be eligible to receive the first doses.