PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A COVID-19 vaccine could be available in Philadelphia within a week if Pfizer’s vaccine gets the Food and Drug Administration’s approval for emergency use. The FDA said Tuesday that its initial review of Pfizer’s vaccine found it was 95% effective against the coronavirus.
The FDA will hold a debate Thursday as a panel of independent scientists will review if the vaccine is safe and effective enough for millions of Americans to take.
Philadelphia has no firm number yet on how much vaccine it will get. Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley says the numbers from the feds keep changing, but he is expecting tens of thousands of doses.
“If that first vaccine — that’s the vaccine produced by the Pfizer company — if it’s approved later this week, we are likely to start offering that vaccine here in Philadelphia next week,” Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said during a Tuesday press conference, adding that Moderna’s vaccine could possibly be approved a week later and that vaccine could be available the following week.
The health commissioner says Philadelphia will get vaccine shipments directly from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention distribution, and at the same time, the state will receive and disperse supplies to other locations.
“With both of these vaccines, we will have limited doses, and our first priority group is going to be health care workers who are routinely exposed to coronavirus,” Farley said. “And we’ll widen the groups that gets the vaccine as more vaccine becomes available in the coming weeks and months.”
Farley says hospitals will decide which individuals get the vaccine first and will also be in charge of administering it. Second in line for vaccine will be vulnerable populations and essential workers.
“We won’t know how many doses we’re going to get until we actually get them,” he said.
The vaccine can’t come to Philadelphia soon enough. The city is seeing a spike in coronavirus cases following the Thanksgiving holiday.
“This is an extremely dangerous period in this epidemic. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of people following safety precautions now,” Farley said.
Farley says the city saw a 12.7% positivity rate last week. He also shared a story about a woman in her 20s who had coronavirus symptoms the day before Thanksgiving but still saw ten of her family members on the holiday. Now, at least seven of her family members have tested positive for the virus.
“The epidemic has touched us all. Everyone knows someone who’s been infected, about half of Philadelphia residents know someone who’s been hospitalized, and it’s very common for Philadelphia residents to know someone who has died,” Farley said. “Unfortunately, even though it’s been nine months, the epidemic is not in the past yet.”
There’s also been an increase in deaths and people hospitalized with COVID. Hospitals in other parts of the state are at or past capacity, and Philadelphia is catching up fast.
“I’m concerned about all of our resources being depleted in the hospitals,” Farley said. “At the moment our biggest concern is the ability to maintain staffing. Even if you have enough beds, if you don’t have enough nurses to take care of them, that’s a problem.”
Officials are imploring people to avoid social gatherings with the upcoming holiday season, noting the ban on indoor gatherings in the city that runs through the new year.
More than 75,000 Philadelphians have contracted the virus since the beginning of the pandemic. Nearly 10,000 have been hospitalized and more than 2,000 have died.
Meanwhile, Mayor Jim Kenney is currently quarantining at home after being exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. He says he’s free of any symptoms and is getting tested soon.
CBS3’s Stephanie Stahl contributed to this report.
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