Pitt Vaccine Researcher Finds COVID-19 Vaccine Data 'Very Promising'

Dec 10, 2020

On today's program: A professor with the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Vaccine Research explains what’s promising and what’s left to learn about the COVID-19 vaccine; Pittsburgh Public Schools considers how to address a $34 million shortfall in its budget; and the latest in WESA’s Good Question! explains how a banner in Regent Square identifies the time just before Fort Pitt, the city’s namesake was built.


Vaccine researcher explains how Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine works, and why it’s promising
(0:00 - 7:11)

A panel of outside experts meets Thursday, December 10 to consider if the FDA should give emergency authorization to the Pfizer and BioNTech coronavirus vaccine. This comes as other countries begin to vaccinate their citizens.

Dr. Amy Hartman, an assistant professor of Infectious Disease and Microbiology at the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Vaccine Research, says the process and the speed at which it’s been implemented is impressive. One issue of a compressed schedule, she says, is “there is not as much time to follow up on patients after their vaccine.”

While some express concerns about the speed at which the vaccine was developed, clinical Phase 3 trials show overwhelmingly positive results.

She adds that although it’s a two-dose process, early data “indicates that there is effectiveness after only one dose.”

There are, however, still some unknowns.

“I would love to know how long protection lasts,” says Hartman. “I would also like to see the effect of the vaccine in children and in the elderly, just to see how the high protection afforded in adults translates to the young and the old as well.”

Despite these questions, Hartman says the vaccine should be offered to vulnerable populations like older adults. Britain’s first vaccine was given to a 90-year-old woman.

When it’s available, Hartman says she and her family will be getting the vaccine.

Pittsburgh Public Schools Budget faces $34 million shortfall and a few options to make up the difference
(7:24 - 13:43)


The Pittsburgh Board of Education has three weeks to approve a budget for 2021 for the city school district. Similar to many government and public entities, it’s struggling with how to balance a budget during a pandemic-induced-recession.

WESA education reporter Sarah Schneider explains that while the administration has proposed a $668.6 million budget, it still has to address a $34 million shortfall.

Right now, Schneider says, the district floated options like workforce reductions, limiting or eliminating programs, and closing schools that are being underutilized.

About 85 percent of the district’s school buildings are underutilized, says Schneider. The district’s Chief Financial Officer Ron Joseph has said the district could save $1.7 million a year for every school it closes.

“A lot of our school buildings serve mostly Black and brown students and in the past, schools have closed based on their performance,” says Schneider. “We know that those schools are under-resourced, schools that serve mostly Black and brown students. Advocates have issue with that.”

Schneider says in addition to addressing the shortfall, advocates also called on the district to better prioritize mental health and reduce police presence in schools. There are currently 20 officers and 66 security aides--who do not have the authority to arrest students--throughout the district.

The budget will likely get a vote during the PPS board meeting on Dec. 16. 

Why did George Washington once camp at Regent Square?
(10:25 - 18:00)

At an intersection in Regent Square, an unassuming blue banner once declared that President George Washington had camped at that location.

For 90.5 WESA’s Good Question! series, Katie Blackley looks into how that campground was part of the reason Pittsburgh is called “Pittsburgh.”


The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.