Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and other health officials in the state have expressed optimism that recent findings by Pfizer show that the company’s coronavirus vaccine is 90% effective in preventing the disease, but also expressed caution that there are some serious challenges to getting the virus into the arms of state residents.
One of the biggest challenges the Pfizer vaccine will pose is how to properly store it. The vaccine will likely require storage at extremely low temperatures, up to 100 degrees below zero, and Pritzker says the state will have to work hard to make sure that it has enough facilities that can properly store the vaccine before it’s shipped to various health departments.
“This one requires that the vaccine be stored at 100 degrees below zero, so that makes distribution more difficult,” Pritzker said. “I don’t know how many facilities you’re aware of that can hold 100 degree below zero supplies, but it’s not many. It takes an awful lot.”
Pritzker says the state doesn’t manufacture the type of equipment that would be required to store or deliver those types of vaccines, but that the state will work to work with whatever their capabilities end up being.
“We’re going to build the capability to deliver that vaccine to the people of Illinois,” he said.
Another concern some residents have expressed is whether the drug will be safe. While Pfizer reported that its vaccine doesn’t have any unusual side effects in the short-term, some residents of the state remain skeptical that a vaccine produced in a comparatively short amount of time could truly be safe.
Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, tried to allay some of those fears.
“There are people who are hesitant for a new vaccine and feel the process has been rushed,” she said. “Every possible resource has been thrown at the creation of this new vaccine. The US government has doled out billions to move vaccines through phases in record time. The entire world is focused on a safe and effective vaccine. The process is still being followed.”
Another big hurdle that doctors could face is the opposition to the vaccine that has developed during the pandemic. Some studies have suggested that support for the vaccine has declined in recent months, with an October poll by CNN finding that 45% of Americans say they do not intend to get the coronavirus vaccine.
It is unclear whether the news of the efficacy of the vaccine will have any impact on those numbers, but Ezike said that the vaccine is only as effective as the number of Americans willing to receive it will allow it to be.
“We can have hundreds of millions of doses of vaccine in the world, but if they don’t get into the arms of people then it’s not helpful,” she said.
One of the big turning points in the development of a vaccine will come later this month when Pfizer is expected to release more information the treatment, and the governor says that he and other state officials are rooting for success with the treatment, which he hopes could help the state get back to a semblance of normalcy in the near future.
“It was preliminary data. There’s another set of data that will come to Pfizer from their trials, and they’ll get that data in late November,” Pritzker said. “Obviously we’re all rooting for it.”