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Vaccine Delivery And Distribution Present New Challenges

A person prepares a measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, which protects against 93-97 percent of measles cases. Health officials say a case has been reported in Jefferson County.
Matthew Lotz
/
U.S. Air Force
According to Dr. Randall Williams, secretary of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, the state has 10 sites equipped to handle the cold storage of vaccines at temperatures 94 degrees below zero.

In recent weeks, both Pfizer and Moderna announced that their COVID-19 vaccines are 95% effective. That’s huge news.

“This is an amazing accomplishment in and of itself, and I really do think this will be compared with the Apollo space program in the future,” said Michael Kinch, associate vice chancellor at Washington University in St. Louis.

But does it mean everyone will have a vaccine by New Year’s Eve? Not quite.

“It’s OK to smile, but I wouldn’t pop the Champagne cork quite yet,” Kinch cautioned. “We need to know, A, are these vaccines safe in the long term, and B, are they effective in the long term?”

On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, Kinch joined host Sarah Fenske to discuss what we still don’t know about the two vaccines moving toward distribution, the complications involved in getting them to people and what it will take to get things back to normal.

“We’re talking about immunizing, just in the United States, 350 million Americans with two doses of a vaccine — which means you need compliance, because one dose isn’t going to do the job — and getting that material to the right places at the right time and the people ready to go — again, not just once but twice,” Kinch said. “That can be challenging, particularly in more rural areas where someone may have to travel quite a distance.

“Add to that complication the temperatures [in which] some of these vaccines have to be stored. The vaccine from Pfizer requires a temperature of about minus 100 [degrees] Fahrenheit, and the one from Moderna requires about [minus] 4 degrees Fahrenheit,” he continued. “It’s likely, given the timeline, that we’re going to be looking at a mass vaccination campaign in July or August. St. Louis in July or August can be kind of hot, and that raises questions about the stability of the vaccine.”

Kinch is the founder and director of the Centers for Research Innovation in Biotechnology and Drug Development, as well as the author of “Between Hope and Fear: A History of Vaccines and Human Immunity.”

On the show, he recalled a few vaccines that have been withdrawn or failed to work as initially hoped, even after seemingly finding early success. That includes the rotavirus vaccine and the Lyme disease vaccine.

“Again, we can smile, but we can’t pop the Champagne cork until such time as we know it’s safe, we know it’s effective, and we know that the populations will be protected,” he said.

What questions do you have about COVID-19 vaccines? Tweet us (@STLonAir), send an email to talk@stlpublicradio.org or share your thoughts via our St. Louis on the Air Facebook group, and help inform our coverage.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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