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Winter storms have impacted deliveries of coronavirus vaccines in all 50 states. Several vaccination sites have had to close due to a lack of doses. This comes as a new study raises questions about how many doses of the Pfizer vaccine are actually needed. Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert and senior scholar at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, joined CBSN with the latest on the nation’s vaccination efforts.
LANA ZAK: The winter storms have impacted deliveries of coronavirus vaccines in all 50 states. Several distribution hubs have been left without power, and some vaccination sites have been forced to close due to a lack of supplies. And a new study is raising questions about the necessity of Pfizer’s second dose.
Israeli researchers say the vaccine is 85% effective after just a single shot. Meanwhile, infections, hospitalizations, and deaths are continuing to fall in the US. More than 27.9 million cases have been confirmed, and more than 495,000 lives have been lost. Adriana Diaz has the latest.
ADRIANA DIAZ: Tonight, it’s a game of catch up. Delivery trucks are trying to weather this winter, but vaccine delays are widespread.
– We have a backlog of about 6 million doses due to the weather. All 50 states have been impacted.
ADRIANA DIAZ: That represents three days of delayed shipping due to delivery workers snowed in at home, road closures, and more than 2,000 vaccine sites without power. The result, nearly all of this week’s shipments to New York state are delayed. In Boston, dentist Khara Gresham’s second dose appointment today was canceled, despite her high-risk work.
KHARA GRESHAM: Good morning. Everything’s up in the air.
ADRIANA DIAZ: How do you feel?
KHARA GRESHAM: A little bit frustrated, a little bit annoyed is probably a good word. Confused as to kind of what next steps to take.
ADRIANA DIAZ: In Los Angeles, more than 12,000 appointments today also canceled. Today, President Biden toured the Western Michigan Pfizer plant shipping vaccines across the country.
JOE BIDEN: I believe we’ll be approaching normalcy by the end of this year.
ADRIANA DIAZ: Pfizer submitted new data to the FDA showing its vaccines can be stored in standard pharmacy freezers instead of ultra-cold specialty freezers. That could expand distribution to more vaccine sites. In addition, an Israeli study finds that a single Pfizer vaccine dose is 85% effective, but the White House still strongly recommends two doses.
– We’re not going to be persuaded by one study that happens to grab headlines.
– You know what you have done?
ADRIANA DIAZ: Meanwhile, people are going to great lengths to cut in line. In Florida, these women were given warnings this week after dressing up in bonnets and gloves, pretending to be senior citizens to get the vaccine.
– You come back at any time, you’re going to be arrested. Any question about that?
– No, sir.
ADRIANA DIAZ: Here in Chicago, the city’s public health commissioner said those delays caused vaccinations to decrease by about 50% this past Monday through Wednesday, but things are getting back on track now at vaccination sites like this one. And to ramp up supply, Pfizer has announced that it plans to expand production capabilities at facilities in Kansas and Connecticut. Lana.
LANA ZAK: Some good news there. Adriana, thank you. Infectious disease expert Dr. Amesh Adalja joins me now. He’s a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Dr. Adalja, thanks for all you do. Thanks for being with us right now. And I want to start by asking about those vaccine shipment delays that we just heard Adriana talking about. Several states’ hospitals, they have kept some vaccine stockpiled for those second doses. Do you think, given these delays, that those stockpiles should be released now?
AMESH ADALJA: I definitely think that those stockpiles should be released. We’re going to get more vaccine production, so I don’t think that states should be withholding doses and holding back because they think they may not get their second dose. I do think vaccination rollout is going to improve.
And the priority needs to be getting first doses into people, and then getting that second dose. We’ve got some flexibility built into it. We’ve actually got data now on the– on a single-dose regimen. So I do think that we want to get vaccines into arms, and holding things back is not the way to do this right now, especially with all the delays and the hang-ups with the rollout.
– I especially want to talk to you about that– the importance of that first dose, given the Pfizer news. An Israeli study said that the Pfizer vaccine is 85% effective after just a single dose. What exactly does this say about the need for a second dose? And should that then become optional for folks?
AMESH ADALJA: I don’t know if it should be optional, but we should start thinking about just prioritizing first doses, and then catching up with that second dose whenever we can. We know the second dose is going to improve the immunity, make it more durable, make it longer lasting of the first dose. But we want to get first doses into people, because we know we’ll start to get benefits. We’ll start to see decreases in hospitalizations, decreases and spread just with that first dose.
And we know that vaccine rollout will get better as we get further along in this distribution process. So I do think we can start thinking about using first doses the way the United Kingdom is doing in a way that will just really stop the damage now and then just worry about that second dose when we get to it. And I think it will still have that same benefit when we get people those second doses, it just will be a little bit delayed. And I think we have to really put this on the table and think about it.
– Speaking of studies, Pfizer has launched its first vaccine trial for pregnant women. They don’t expect it to wrap up until January 2023. But what should pregnant women do until then? Should they get the vaccine before it’s proven safe and effective for them? Should they– if somebody is thinking about trying to start to have a family, should they try and prioritize getting a vaccine before they try to get pregnant?
AMESH ADALJA: I think pregnant women should get the vaccine now. And I’ve recommended people who have asked me that are pregnant, I told them go get the vaccine as soon as it’s available. We know pregnant women are at higher risk for severe complications. We know they have more– more rates of preterm birth and cesarean section. So we want to protect pregnant women.
Unfortunately, the initial trials didn’t include pregnant women. But biologically speaking, there’s no real mechanism for this to cause damage to a fetus or to a pregnant woman, this type of a vaccine. And there were women who got pregnant during the Pfizer trial. There are many pregnant women that have been vaccinated so far, and we’ve not seen any safety signal in the CDC monitoring.
So I do think this is something important. It’s going to be hard for someone to get a vaccine right now if they’re of childbearing age before they get pregnant, because they’re not likely to fall into a priority group. Maybe they might be a phase 1A health care worker that can do that, but many people are not going to.
So I don’t think we have a way to get people vaccinated before they get pregnant. And I think the data that’s coming from this clinical trial will help pregnant women have more peace of mind when they do get vaccinated. And I suspect that this is going to be a very safe and effective vaccine in pregnant women, just as it is in everybody else.
– Makes sense. All right, Dr. Amesh Adalja, thank you.
AMESH ADALJA: Thank you.
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