EL CENTRO — As the COVID-19 cases continue to surge in Imperial County, officials are very interested in a potential vaccine that so far has shown positive results.
At Tuesday’s Imperial County Board of Supervisors meeting, County Public Health Officer Dr. Stephen Munday said Pfizer Inc.’s COVID-19 vaccine trial appears to be effective, with 90 percent of those participating not getting the virus.
However, it would still be several months away before being made available to the general public. A very small amount could be provided to specific groups, like first responders, by the middle of next month.
The state released its weekly report Tuesday, and the numbers revealed the county is nowhere close to moving out of the purple, widespread tier of its Blueprint for a Safer Economy.
The adjusted cases of residents testing positive is 20.3 per 100,000 population, far above the seven cases required to move to the next tier.
The county also is failing to meet the required 8 percent or lower positive test rate, as the state reported it is 12.1 percent. The county’s health equity score of 12.4 is more than twice than the score of 6 the state prescribes.
Pfizer is developing the vaccine with its German partner BioNTech, now is on track to apply later this month for emergency-use approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, once it has the necessary safety information in hand.
Significant challenges and unanswered questions remain before average Americans can get one of the two doses Pfizer’s vaccine would require, Munday said. Even if all goes well, authorities have stressed it is unlikely any vaccine will arrive much before the end of the year, and the limited initial supplies will be rationed.
Pfizer’s phase 3 clinical trial began in late July and has enrolled more than 43,000 study participants.
Those in the trial received the live vaccine, while others received a placebo.
If more infections are reported among those in the trial who received the placebo than the actual vaccine, it’s a good sign of the vaccine’s effectiveness.
“From the science side, Pfizer is really good news,” Munday said, but pointed out the 90 percent effectiveness rate from a small sample.
He said the 90 percent will probably change a little one way or another as more numbers come in, but “it is really good news.”
Munday said there is a lot of work behind the scenes on when it will become available and how it will be distributed when it becomes available to the general public.
County Health Public Health Director Janette Angulo said many medical providers have agreed to count them in to provide the vaccine when one becomes available.
While Pfizer is the first to release its results, Munday is optimistic other companies working on a vaccine will follow with their data and results.
Munday said he thinks when there is a vaccine available, it will take four to five weeks for the dosages to begin to work for people getting the vaccine.
A lot of work still remains, he said.
“But this is really good news, and I am optimistic that other vaccines will follow,” he said.
Supervisor Ryan Kelley wanted to know if the health department had enough freezer space to store the vaccines.
The health department has one such freezer and is hesitant to buy more because there is no guarantee when the vaccine will make its way to the county.
Since they would need to be stored in a cold climate, Angulo said she was curious how the vaccine would be delivered to the county.
“It’s not just the storage, but the transportation,” she said.
She said there is a plan on how to use the limited amount of the vaccine that could be available in about a month.
Munday said if everything with Pfizer or another vaccine moves forward it could take several months before one is available for the general public.
Associated Press contributed to this story.