In a mid-November television appearance, Dr. Vivek Murthy, former-Surgeon General and recently-named co-chair of the Biden Administration's coronavirus task force, referred to distribution of an expected COVID-19 vaccine as "one of the most challenging parts" of the entire pandemic response.
"We have vaccinated Americans for many years," he noted, "but the campaign we are going to have to build to vaccinate enough people to create herd immunity in America will be the most ambitious vaccination campaign, I believe, in our country's history."
The very next day, Moderna announced that its experimental COVID-19 vaccine had shown a 94.5 percent efficacy rate in preliminary Phase 3 test results. And two days after that, Pfizer announced its vaccine was 95 percent effective and had no serious side effects.
Each company is expected to file fore an emergency use authorization with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in the coming weeks, as well as with other global regulators.
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told CNBC he estimates as many as 40 million doses of vaccine will be available by the end of this year, enough to inoculate about 20 million people, since both vaccines require 2 shots. "The goal is to provide enough coronavirus vaccine doses to all Americans who want to be vaccinated against the disease by the second quarter of 2021," Azar said.
For pharmacists who have been closely monitoring vaccine development, and who will have an important role in its administration, the Moderna and Pfizer announcements are welcome news. In an interview with Becker's Hospital Review, American Society of Health-Systems Pharmacists senior director of clinical guidelines and quality improvement Anna Legreid Dopp said all health care providers and public officials should be "Excited and encouraged," by the news.
But the favorable study results also underscore the tremendous effort that will be involved in distributing the vaccine to the American public. Pfizer's vaccine, for example, requires a sustained temperature of approximately -100 degrees Fahrenheit to remain effective. And while the company has developed specially built deep-freeze "suitcases" to transport the vaccine, inoculation sites will need to procure ultra-cold freezers which, according to CBS News, can cost as much as $20,000 each.
Secretary Azar suggested that, because of its specific handling requirements, the Pfizer vaccine might be better-suited for large institutions including hospitals and long-term care facilities. The Moderna vaccine, which can be stored in a standard refrigerator, he suggested, could be more suitable for pharmacies and clinics.
To help pharmacists stay informed, the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) has created a COVID-19 Vaccine Information page on its website, which provides quick access to applicable resources that include:
Pharmacists can also download a complimentary copy of a new white paper by Micro Merchant Systems, "Preparing Your Pharmacy for COVID-19 Vaccine Administration." The paper provides tips for pharmacists about using their technology system, including PrimeRx™, to assist in vaccine-related efforts. Among other things, technology can help pharmacists proactively communicate with patients about vaccine eligibility, help with inventory management, and seamlessly transmit reimbursement claims.
The Moderna and Pfizer announcements are welcome news, for a nation in desperate need of relief from the COVID-19 pandemic. America's pharmacists, will of course, be ready to play a leading role when the time comes. In the meantime, let's keep our fingers crossed for continued good news on these two vaccine initiatives, and for all other vaccines and therapeutics in the development pipeline.