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It’s ‘Extremely Optimistic’ We’ll Have COVID Vaccine This Fall, Says UPMC Doc

Kirsty Wigglesworth
In this file photo dated Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020, a volunteer is injected with a trial vaccine as part of an Imperial College vaccine trial, at a clinic in London.

Pennsylvania’s largest medical system reports that its COVID-19 patients are experiencing better outcomes than what was seen at the start of the pandemic, though it’s not clear why this is occurring.

Hospitalizations have increased since the spring, which makes sense as there is more virus circulating in the community. But UPMC also reports that patients are spending less time in the hospital, are less likely to need intensive care or be put on ventilators, and are less likely to die. UPMC reports that current patients are similar in age and levels of health when compared those who were hospitalized earlier this year.

It’s possible these improvements are due to better treatments, more effective clinical protocols, and various public health inventions. It’s also plausible that the virus is becoming less deadly, though the evidence of this is limited.

“It’s impossible to separate what we do as humans from what the virus does. It depends on us for propagation and for illness,” said Dr. Donald Yealy, UPMC’s senior medical director, at a Thursday press conference.

Despite better outcomes, Yealy said it’s not time to go back to normal, and people must still wear masks.

UPMC physicians were also asked to comment on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention telling states to plan for a potential vaccine distribution in late October.

“It extremely optimistic to imagine that we will have [a vaccine] by November,” said Dr. Derek Angus, UPMC’s chief health care innovation officer. “We only want to rollout a vaccine that has been shown to be adequately safe and efficacious.”

The vaccine candidates that would be permitted in the United States are, at best, still performing large-scale randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials. There are three of these late-stage vaccine trials being conducted in the U.S., including the Moderna vaccine which is recruiting participants in Pittsburgh.  

Sarah Boden covers health and science for 90.5 WESA. Before coming to Pittsburgh in November 2017, she was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio. As a contributor to the NPR-Kaiser Health News Member Station Reporting Project on Health Care in the States, Sarah's print and audio reporting frequently appears on NPR and KFF Health News.