What to Know About COVID-19 Vaccines in South Florida

South Florida is set to be one of the first places to receive the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine. 

Promising news about COVID-19 vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer have many people curious about distribution and availability in South Florida. Here's what we know so far about both vaccines.

How do COVID-19 vaccines work?

COVID-19 vaccines work by building up the body’s defense to the virus that causes the novel coronavirus. There are three main types of COVID-19 vaccines, according to the Centers for Disease Control and prevention: mRNA vaccines, protein subunit vaccines and vector vaccines.

The Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine, which will arrive at hospitals in South Florida in December (pending FDA approval), is an mRNA vaccine. Moderna has also developed an mRNA vaccine, which has been tested during clinical trials at the University of Miami. 

mRNA vaccines contain a tiny fragment of the virus that causes COVID-19, according to the CDC. This fragment contains material that gives cells directions on how to make “a harmless protein unique to the virus,” then gets rid of the genetic material after our cells make copies of the protein. 

In other words, the vaccine provokes an immune response.

If we become infected with COVID-19 in the future, our bodies will recognize the protein shouldn’t be there -- and will be equipped with lymphocytes to fight against it. 

How effective are existing COVID-19 vaccines?

Trial data shows that Moderna’s mRNA vaccine is more than 94% effective in preventing COVID-19. The efficacy rate of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine is 95%, according to preliminary data. 

Are both vaccines approved by the FDA?

Not yet. The FDA will meet December 10th on whether Pfizer gets the approval to go ahead and give out the vaccine. The FDA will review Moderna’s vaccine on Dec. 17.

Which vaccine is coming to South Florida first?

Pfizer’s vaccine will be coming to South Florida first, pending approval by the FDA. 

Where is the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine being produced, and what are the logistics behind the distribution?

The Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine right now is being produced at a plant in western Michigan. Workers there are storing it at a temperature that’s almost 100 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.

From the vaccine plant in Portage, Michigan, drivers will get on Interstate 94 and head to Detroit’s International Airport. From the airport, the flights with the vaccine will fly into Miami International Airport where the vaccine will be unloaded onto trucks, and drivers will take the vaccine to their initial South Florida locations at Jackson Memorial Hospital and Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood.

How will the vaccines be distributed across the state?

Vaccines will be distributed using a phased approach outlined by the Florida Department of Health. In Phase 1, vaccines will be sent to hospitals, long-term care facilities and first responders. This is when the vaccine will be in limited supply, and the state would issue the vaccine in a “prioritized manner.”

Phase 2 is defined as “large numbers of doses available, supply likely to meet demand” by the Florida Department of Health. As such, pediatricians, primary care providers and pharmacies will receive doses.

Phase 3 occurs when a sufficient supply of the vaccine becomes available, and demand for the vaccine lessens. At this point, the state will “provide the vaccine through routine health care delivery systems, including commercial pharmacies.”

Who will receive the vaccine first?

Doctors, nurses, and other personnel directly treating COVID-19 patients will get the shots first, a CDC committee decided. Health care workers at nursing homes, residents and first responders will also receive the vaccine first.

"It’s two doses a person, spaced 21 days apart," Dr. Aileen Marty, infectious disease doctor at FIU, said. "Nursing homes, other long term care facilities, anticipating and recognizing that their population is the one that had the highest incidents of fatality, have developed implementation plans."

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