Chair of Governor Newsom's COVID-19 Vaccine Workgroup Answers Questions

Dr. Arthur Reingold, head of Berkeley Public Health's Division of Epidemiology, answers questions about three vaccines being developed by AstraZeneca, Moderna and Pfizer

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Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Pfizer have all made major strides in developing a potential coronavirus vaccine, but there are still so many questions about what the vaccine will actually do and how safe it will be.

Moderna and Pfizer are developing an mRNA vaccine, which is a new approach to vaccine development. AstraZeneca is developing a vectored vaccine.

"The vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer are what are called mRNA vaccines which are a novel approach to making vaccines, where we basically introduce the genetic material into the human body and then the human body makes the viral protein that generates an immune response," said Dr. Arthur Reingold, Chair of Governor Newsom's COVID-19 Vaccine Workgroup. "The AstraZeneca is a vectored vaccine, which in other words, we put the protein, the antigen in this case, coronavirus into a harmless carrier virus that then is in the vaccine. Both approaches are meant to stimulate an immune response to the coronavirus spike protein."

mRNA vaccines require colder temperatures for storage so it could create a few more logistical hurdles when mass-produced, according to Dr. Reingold.

There have also been a lot of questions about what a coronavirus vaccine would actually do. Would it prevent severe illness or could it prevent transmission completely?

"The Moderna and the Pfizer vaccine, and it looks like the AstraZeneca vaccine, certainly prevent illness. It appears they prevent severe illness. I think we’ll have to wait and see the evidence about infection and transmission, but I’d be cautiously optimistic that they do that as well," Dr. Reingold said.

Reingold believes we don't know exactly how long the vaccine would protect us from Coronavirus or if someone who had a confirmed positive case would need to take it.

There have also been a lot of questions as to how safe the vaccine will be since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has sped up the timeline to get the vaccines approved. Dr. Reingold said the only part of the process that was sped up was getting the funding and finding the participants for the clinical trials.

"I have no concerns about the size of the study, the design of the studies, the thought with which they're being analyzed and I assume the care which they will be assessed by the U.S. FDA and the experts there, so in that sense I don’t think there are any short cuts," Dr. Reingold said.

Dr. Reingold said he expects the FDA to approve one or more of the vaccines by mid-December and for the first batch to be available to high priority people in December. He anticipates doses for mass consumption would be ready by late spring or early summer.

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