UW Medicine Researchers: COVID-19 vaccines show promise

There is a new surge of COVID-19 cases across the country. As it stands, there have been more than 8-million confirmed cases and about 220,000 deaths. 60,000 reported cases in the U.S. were reported on Sunday alone. Two dozen states report a peak over the past week, mainly in the midwest and the upper plains.

At the University of Utah hospital, for example, hospitalizations are spiking and medical resources are running thin.

"There's a point when you can't cut back any further, and then what we have to do is stretch our staff even more than what we're currently doing," said R. Russell Vinik, M.D., Chief Medical Operations Officer for the University of Utah Hospital.

In Washington state, there are about 98,200 confirmed cases. Pierce County is seeing an alarming number of new cases with more than a hundred reported over the weekend, bringing the county's total to about 9,200 cases. The projections over the fall and winter season show that cases and deaths will increase.

"The virus loves cold weather," said Dr. Ali Mokdad, Professor of Health Metrics Sciences in the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington. "We're moving indoors. We're socializing indoors. And indoors we're likely to let down our guard because we are in a safe environment and around people that we know and trust."

According to Dr. Mokdad, wearing masks cannot be understated. Until a safe vaccine is developed, he said it is the best line of defense against COVID-19.

"Cumulative deaths by February 1st is projected to be 4,300. If 95% of people in Washington will wear a mask when we go outside of ourhomes, this will go down to 3,300," he said.

According to the Washington State Department of Health, 2,239 people have died from COVID-19 within the state. 

For Dr. Deborah Fuller, a microbiology professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine, vaccine candidates in Phase 3 clinical trials are showing promise.

"The expectation is that it'll be quite safe and that's really based on years and decades of data," said Fuller.

The other question is when, realistically, could a vaccine be available.

"Most experts are anticipating closer to after the new year, or January or February of 2021," she said.

Dr. Mokdad said he believes a vaccine will be readily available to the public by the third quarter of next year.

There are several vaccine candidates currently in Phase 3 clinical trials, but according to Fuller, two that show promise are ones made by Moderna and Pfizer. She said those produce and antibody response in your cells.

"And then your own cells begin to manufacture that vaccine. The advantages of that are they are generally very safe vaccines," said Fuller.

They also provide T-cell responses in your body said Fuller.

"If the virus gets past the antibody and infects a cell, the T-cells can find that infected cell and eliminate it. So it's kind of like a second line of defense," Fuller added. 

Dr. Fuller is part of a project to make what she said is a "2nd generation" vaccine. It is a vaccine that makes antibody and T-cell responses, but it's one that can be stored at room temperature, said Fuller. It has shown strong immune responses so far, she added.

Along with the production of vaccines, distribution is also ramping. CVS announced they are adding 15,000 pharmacy techs when a vaccine becomes readily available. Rite-Aid pharmacy said their pharmacists will also be ready to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it's available.