Lamont Juxtaposes ‘Concerning’ Case Data with GOOD Vaccine News from CT’s Pfizer, Discusses Distribution

Gov. Ned Lamont started off his daily coronavirus press briefing on Monday, Nov. 9, with a reference to the recent spring-like weather, saying that the COVID-19 case numbers the state is currently seeing remind him of the numbers from last spring when the state experienced its first surge of the virus.

For the weekend (Friday-Sunday, Nov. 6-8), Connecticut reported 3,388 positive cases and 89,686 tests, for a 3.7% positivity rate. Over the week, there were over 180,000 tests taken in the state, the most ever administered in a week–something the governor liked.

“[It] allows us to get ahead of COVID and be able to track and at least find folks that are infected earlier and treat them earlier,” he said.

Something not-so-positive was the three-day number of fatalities, at 27, a number that has continued to rise monthly for the last three months.

There were 94 new hospitalizations over the weekend, bringing the total number of people hospitalized right now in the state to 496, double what it was less than three weeks ago. Lamont called numbers around hospitalizations concerning and a reflection of what is happening around the country.

“We’re watching this carefully. We still have a lot of capacity in our regular hospital beds. We have only 50% use in our ICU, intensive care,” he noted, adding that if needed the state could expand the regular hospital bed count quickly with field hospitals.

Lamont provided some statistics provided by Johns Hopkins to illustrate just how fast the virus spread is happening.

“We had our first COVID infection on Jan. 21. It took 98 days until we had our one-millionth person who tested positive for COVID. One million in 98 days, that was April 28. In the last 10 days, we’ve had now our 10 millionth person who tested positive. So in the last 10 days another one million. So we’ve gone from 98 days to 10 days, it gives you an idea of how fast this is spreading on a nationwide basis,” he said.

GOOD News About Pfizer COVID Vaccine

Lamont did tout Connecticut-based Pfizer, which announced good news related to the development of a COVID vaccine:  early data from a very large trial is showing it’s 90% effective, and the company is looking toward FDA submission possibly by the end of the month.

Dr. John Burkhardt, Pfizer’s senior VP of global drug safety research and development, joined Lamont during the press conference, as did Dr. Reginald Eadie, President/CEO of Trinity Health and co-chair of Gov. Lamont’s Vaccine Advisory Group, who talked about what it will take to get the vaccine distributed once it’s released.

Burkhardt explained some of the logistical complexity of distributing the vaccine, which will need to be given in two doses two weeks apart, adding to the challenge. He said the vaccine needs to be kept and shipped at sub-freezing temperatures and then stabilized in refrigeration for a period of time, so coordination with states on facilitating the supply chain will be critical. “We do share the concern that it’s something that needs to be done very precisely and very correctly,” Burkhardt said.

Eadie spoke about how the distribution of the vaccine in Connecticut would work.

“If there was a vaccine available, we would prioritize it for healthcare workers, front line staff, the elderly–those who are at high risk, who have multiple co-morbidities, nursing homes and other areas that could be considered hot spots,” Eadie said, noting that any timeline would have to align with CDC recommendations.

Access to the vaccine likely would also be done on a phased basis.

“The first phase would be a phase where the demand is greater than the supply; the second phase they sort of balance each other out; the third phase there would be more supply than the demand. We don’t know the timelines on those, but initially, we believe we will be partnering with local health systems and hospitals,” Eadie said, adding that local health departments would also be part of the phase one distribution depending on the ability to store the vaccine at the necessary low temperatures.

Answering another question on lockdown protests, the Governor noted that any vaccine will likely “take months before it’s rolled out in a totally effective way, so we’re going to have to stay cautious a little bit longer,” stressing the need for CT residents to continue wearing masks and taking precautions.

Whether the vaccine is effective for a lifetime or is something that needs to be administered yearly like the flu vaccine is still unanswered.

“We follow the science, and we do not know the answer to that question. So we will be learning about that from the current clinical trial. We will follow those patients out for two years, with an emphasis on safety, but we will also begin to gather other types of data,” Burkhardt said.

Lamont said he believes there will be 5-10 million doses of the vaccine available by the end of this year for statewide distribution, although Burkhardt called the Governor’s estimate conservative. He Pfizer is hopeful that production may actually reach up to 50 million by the end of 2020, and the added hope is for a billion doses by the end of 2021 “as the manufacturing really kicks into high gear.” Lamont added that CT usually gets about 1.0% of whatever the total production is.

Each individual would require two doses for the vaccine to be effective.

Part of why Lamont invited Pfizer’s Burkhardt to the briefing was to give people confidence that all the safety protocols are being followed–partially in response to a recent Data Haven survey that showed only 60% of doctors and 40% of nurses said they would be inclined to take the survey. But he said he would not make the vaccine mandatory. “By far the best way to do this is voluntary.”

Lamont also mentioned the CT connection with President-Elect Biden’s Transition COVID-19 Taskforce, which has three co-chairs who all have ties to the state:  former FDA commissioner Dr. David Kessler, who formerly was the Dean of Yale School of Medicine; Dr. Marcella Nuñez-Smith, an associate professor at the Yale School of Medicine who also served on the Reopen CT Advisory Group; and former Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, who graduated from the Yale School of Medicine and Yale School of Management.