Companies developing coronavirus vaccine

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By Paul Hughes, Republican-American

GROTON — If and when a coronavirus vaccine becomes available, Gov. Ned Lamont is leaning toward having essential workers vaccinated first in Connecticut.

Lamont visited the Groton research and development center of Pfizer Inc. Wednesday after the announcement that the company and German partner BioNTech SE inked a $1.95 billion deal with the Trump administration to produce 100 million doses of a vaccine that the two companies are jointly developing.

If upcoming clinical trials are successful, a federally approved vaccine could be ready by the end of the year, said John Burkhardt, senior vice president of drug safety research and development and head of the Pfizer Groton site.

“We’re doing very well,” he said.

Lamont was asked during a news conference what groups of people should be given priority for vaccination against coronavirus disease in Connecticut.

“If you want to know my first instincts, I’d probably say essential workers,” he said. “I’d say essential workers who don’t have the luxury of telecommuting, but are on the frontlines, essential workers who could be infected or could infect others. I think that would be my priority, but now I’ll talk to people smarter than me.”

LAMONT IS DISINCLINED to require people get vaccinated against COVID-19.

“We haven’t made things mandatory yet because people have generally stepped up and done the right thing when we asked them to, like the masks for example,” he said, referring to the widespread voluntary compliance with a state directive to wear face coverings.

Lamont also acknowledged that some people may need to be persuaded to get vaccinated.

“Vaccines only work if people take the vaccines,” he said.

The governor recalled the outpouring of opposition to legislation proposing to repeal a religious exemption for required school vaccinations before the COVID-19 outbreak cut short the legislature’s 2020 session.

“You maybe remember just a couple of months before COVID hit there were a few people visiting us at the state Capitol who were reluctant to take vaccines,” he said. “So, our job is to do everything we can to convince people that this can be done safely, that it is going to be not only effective, but safe for each and every one of you.”

PFIZER AND BIONTECH ARE PREPARING to launch clinical trials involving 20,000 to 30,000 patients before the end of the month, Burkhardt said.

The initial human trials commenced in May. The two companies reported earlier this month that the first of four experimental vaccines showed encouraging results in early testing of 45 people.

“The first clinical trials have been a single dose,” Burkhardt said. “Three weeks later, a patient comes back and gets a second dose. And, the data that we have so far illustrate a really robust post-immune response to that paradigm.”

Yet, despite the encouraging results, he said it remains unclear how long immunity might be expected to last after a person is vaccinated.

“We just do not have that information yet,” he said.

If the clinical trials are successful, Burkhardt anticipated applications would be made in October to U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other federal regulatory agencies for approvals for the vaccine.

If quickly approved, Pfizer expects doses would become available by the end of 2020, but Burkhardt also warned there could be setbacks.

“This is research and development. We are optimistic. We are hopeful. Things can go wrong that can slow a product,” he said.

The deal with the Trump administration calls for the delivery of 100 million doses by the end of the December. The federal government could also buy another 500 million doses in 2021 under the agreement. At $19.50 a dose, that would be a $9.75 billion order.

“Right now, it looks like the federal government is going to purchase the vaccines and be making them available at no cost,” Lamont said.

NO COVID-19 DEATHS were reported Wednesday for a second day in a row in Connecticut. The death toll remained at 4,406.

The Department of Public Health reported 127 new cases out of the 11,529 diagnostic tests that were received since Tuesday. That equated to a positive test rate of 1.1%.

Overall, some 672,386 diagnostic tests have been performed, though this figure includes multiple tests of some patients and specimens.

The hospitalization rate also held steady overnight. There was a net increase of one patient hospitalized with a confirmed case of COVID-19 between new admissions and discharges. There were 63 patients hospitalized across the state.

THE NAUGATUCK VALLEY HEALTH DISTRICT did not release new coronavirus data Wednesday. As of Tuesday, there have been 416 confirmed cases in Naugatuck and 57 confirmed cases in Beacon Falls, according to the health district. There have been 37 confirmed deaths associated with coronavirus and three probable deaths in Naugatuck, according to the health district, and none in Beacon Falls.

As of Friday, the Chesprocott Health District reported there have been 74 cases in Prospect and no coronavirus-related deaths in town.

Elio Gugliotti contributed to this report.