Health leaders say vaccine safety is top priority

Vaccine safety is a priority as the federal government gets ready to decide whether to approve a COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use.

On Tuesday, vaccine advisors to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention decided healthcare workers and nursing home residents should be the first to get the shot. But in order for the vaccine to work, enough people have to be willing to take it, and the CDC advisors stressed the importance of sending the message to the public ensuring the safety of the vaccine, if approved. Attention now turns to the Food and Drug Administration on whether the agency will approve the shot.

“Today, for example, the United Kingdom has rushed out their temporary authorization for the Pfizer vaccine. The FDA’s taking its time. They got their materials over a week ago, and they’ll have another week or so to assess the materials from Pfizer before they actually have their meeting for the emergency use authorization,” said Dr. Michael Teng, a vaccine scientist with USF Health.

Early data suggests the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are safe and highly effective.

“Pfizer and Moderna already knew that they would need more trust than normal because of the unique situation we’re in, so they actually put out their clinical trial protocols, which is really unheard of,” said Teng.

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Scientists said they recognize some people have hesitations about how the shot will affect them for a longer period.

“I would say you’re absolutely right. We don’t know the long term health effects of this vaccine, but what we do know is the short term health effects of coronavirus infection,” said Teng. “We know it can be bad. We know you can die from it. We know that it’s a really severe infection in a lot of people and particularly if you have underlying medical conditions or if you’re elderly.”

Dr. Teng said more transparency will help build public confidence in the vaccine and give other researchers the chance to see the data themselves.

“I think it’s incumbent on them now if they get authorization to get out the data that they submitted in their application,” said Teng.

And while the virus itself is new, the way vaccines are developed is not. Labs use trusted technology that has been studied and proven over many years.

“This is not based on oh all of a sudden we need a vaccine, we’re going to throw some stuff together in a lab. This is based on decades’ worth of experience doing clinical trials, developing vaccines, understanding our immune system,” said Teng.

Scientists said there is also plenty of quality control for the vaccines from the time they leave the lab to when they are delivered.

FDA advisors are set to meet on December 10 to discuss the Pfizer vaccine.

If you feel sick:

The Florida Department of Health has opened a COVID-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121. Agents will answer questions around the clock. Questions may also be emailed to Email responses will be sent during call center hours.

LINK: Florida's COVID-19 website

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