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COVID-19 Vaccines, At Last: What We Need To Know

AP Photo/Frank Augstein, Pool

The coronavirus pandemic continues to worsen across the United States, as total confirmed COVID cases surpassed 15 million, and as a record 3000-plus single-day deaths and more than 230,000 daily new infections were reported for the first time since the pandemic began.

Against that increasingly grim backdrop, the first of several potentially effective vaccines neared final approval for distribution in the United States.

A US Food and Drug Administration’s advisory panel on Thursday recommended the agency approve the Pfizer company’s request for an emergency use authorization for its COVID-19 vaccine, meaning doses could become available to US front-line workers and nursing home residents within days. 

The same vaccine was approved earlier this week in Britain, where the world's first public vaccinations have begun. A similar request for another COVID vaccine, developed by the pharmaceutical company Moderna, awaits FDA consideration next week.  Several more promising vaccines continue in clinical trials.  These developments signal a new and more hopeful phase in this historic public health emergency, but many questions remain about whether the American public has sufficient confidence in the new vaccines, and whether federal, state and local institutions will be able to manage an effective - and equitable - nationwide vaccination campaign that will need to inoculate at least 200 million Americans over the course of the next year.

Today, Tom talks with three public health experts with unique perspectives on the challenges we face as the new vaccines are rolled out.  Later in this hour, we’ll discuss how health agencies can ensure equitable public access to the vaccines with Dr. Sandra Quinn, a senior associate director of the Maryland Center for Health Equity at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health. Tom also talks with the Dean of that school, Dr. Boris Lushniak, a former deputy and acting US Surgeon General in the Obama Administration, about the logistical — and political -- challenges in launching and running a national vaccination campaign.

But Tom's first guest today is Dr. Karen Kotloff.  She is a specialist in infectious diseases with the University of Maryland School of Medicine, where she also serves as Principal Investigator for the Vaccine Treatment and Evaluation Unit at the School’s NIH-funded Center for Vaccine Development. Dr. Kotloff was principal investigator on the Phase 3 human trials of the Moderna company’s COVID-19 vaccine.

Credit University of Maryland SOM/SPH
Dr. Karen Kotloff, UMd SOM. Dr. Boris Lushniak, Dean UMd SPH. Dr. Sandra Quinn, UMd SPH-MD Center for Health Equity

All three of our guests join us today on Zoom.

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Rob is a contributing producer for Midday.