Henry Ford Health System’s Dr. Allison Weinmann on Michigan’s Role in Creating a COVID-19 VaccineSeptember 11, 2020
Henry Ford Health System infectious disease specialist Dr. Allison Weinmann spoke with the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Sandy K. Baruah about progress on the clinical trials for the Moderna mRNA-1273 Coronavirus Efficacy (COVE) vaccine study. Throughout the conversation, Weinmann emphasized the importance of not only safety practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19 but also of the role the flu vaccine will play.
Where We Are at With COVID-19 Vaccine Development
Once a vaccine for COVID-19 is tested and approved for use, the health care community will need to work through challenges like political divisiveness and anti-vax sentiment to ensure that people receive it. While there is still much testing and evaluation to be done before the vaccine is ready for the public, Weinmann notes that conversations with health care leaders are already underway to ensure the equitable distribution of the vaccine and following national guidance to reach high-risk populations.
There is still a long road ahead before a COVID-19 vaccine will be ready, and it will be difficult to pin down an estimated launch date. However, Weinmann notes, companies are ready to ramp up as soon as a vaccine is deemed safe and effective. Recruitment for the current trials is complex as it’s important to determine how the vaccine performs in different groups. If someone gets ill along the way, it is essential to determine if it was something the vaccine did to the individual or if the effect was caused by independent underlying issues. While this isn’t ideal, Weinmann said, it proves that the scientific process is working.
Importance of the Flu Vaccine
With flu season approaching, the widespread use of the flu vaccine is more important than ever. Weinmann cited major concerns in how these illnesses will interact; it is unclear how severe the flu will be year-to-year, posing potential issues with hospital capacity and the risk of coinfection. Further, there are concerns about how the flu will impact individuals who have already had COVID-19. The good news? The flu vaccine already exists and is now available.
“The goal is to get 70, 80, 90% of the population immunized,” Weinmann said. “We partnered with a lot of people in the community and are pushing really hard this year especially to try and bring the vaccine out to the people, out to the community.”
Despite widespread misconceptions, it is biologically impossible to get the flu from the flu vaccine, Weinmann advised. It does take a few weeks for the immunization to reach peak effectiveness, so the sooner individuals get their immunization the better. Weinmann also noted that if individuals are acutely sick with COVID-19, to hold off on getting the flu shot until their condition improves – more so to ensure efficacy as opposed to being a safety issue – but those who are asymptomatic may receive the immunization as usual.
“The single best intervention we have to prevent influenza, is still vaccine,” said Weinmann.
What’s Next for COVID-19
COVID-19 is still very much out there. It has not disappeared. According to Weinmann, while prevalence is down, the public should not feel falsely reassured. It is out there, and there is a huge number of vulnerable citizens at risk. Until an effective vaccine is available, the best defense against the spread of the coronavirus remains mask-wearing, social distancing, and hand hygiene.
“Now is not the time to let down your guard.”