Vaccine results signal ‘light at the end of the tunnel,’ Beshear says

Gov. Beshear provides Monday update on COVID-19 in Kentucky

FRANKFORT, Ky. (FOX19) - News that a promising COVID-19 vaccine might be remarkably effective against the virus provides “a potential light at the end of the tunnel" and points to a world “beyond COVID,” Gov. Andy Beshear said Monday.

But the rampant spread of the virus in Kentucky casts something of a pall upon that news, and it remains to be seen just how severe the current case surge will become as winter descends.

The company behind the vaccine, Pfizer described early trial results Monday showing the vaccine is 90 percent effective, a number that exceeds what many epidemiologists had been expecting.

The company said it could receive an emergency-use approval from the FDA by the end of November and that it could have 50 million doses (enough for 25 million people) by the end of 2020, with more than a billion to follow in 2020.

Kentucky Public Health Commissioner Steven Stack, MD, called the vaccine results “absolutely huge” and the vaccine itself a “game-changer," something that “could dramatically blunt or change the trajectory of the virus” and allow us to get back to normal life.

But both Stack and Beshear emphasized the results are preliminary — “It’s too early to take (them) to the bank,” the governor said — and that rollout of the vaccine will take time.

Early drafts of Kentucky’s plan to distribute the vaccine show first responders and healthcare workers will receive the first doses, followed closely by the highest at-risk populations.

A second round will be delivered to those with elevated risk factors, Beshear said Monday, as well as other essential workers “so we can get back to the most important activities in society.”

A third and fourth round of vaccine distribution would effectively take care of the rest of the population.

“Our commitment is to get it out as fast as possible,” Beshear said.

Meanwhile, Stack highlighted the standard-of-care improvements for those with severe cases of the virus, including the steroid dexamethasone (shown to reduce fatality rates) and the antiviral remdesivir (shown to reduce hospital stay duration).

He also pointed to Regeneron’s monoclonal antibody, which will be available for the sickest patients following an impending EUA from the FDA.

Case fatality rate figures seem to bear out Stack’s optimism on the treatment front. The U.S. rate of 0.86 is the lowest of the pandemic, according to 91-DIVOC, which relies on open-source data from the COVID Tracking Project.

“I do think there’s reason for optimism, but we have to get through where we are at present," Stack said, adding every metric used to track the virus (cases, hospitalizations, ICU admissions, positivity rate) reached a new high Monday.

Monday’s official case report contains 1,756 newly confirmed cases, 11 new deaths, 1,133 current hospitalizations and 300 current ICU admissions.

The case count is the highest-ever for a Monday and sets Kentucky up for another record-breaking week of cases after the state set similar records six of the past seven weeks.

The ICU admissions figure is also the state’s highest ever.

“The reality of the moment is this thing is spreading and spreading significantly,” Beshear said.

Last week | 4th NKY county in ‘red zone’ on Kentucky’s latest incident rate map

The situations have noticeably worsened in Northern Kentucky’s ‘red zone' counties, according to Kentucky’s incident rate map (current map here). Below are the incident rates Oct. 29 versus Monday:

  • Boone County: 20.9 - 40.7
  • Kenton County: 26.7 - 38.3
  • Campbell County: 27.5 - 48.5
  • Grant County: 24.5 - 42.2
  • Pendleton County: 18.6 - 30.4

Moreover, the growth in positive cases statewide is outpacing the ability of local health departments to contact trace, the governor explained Monday. They simply can’t keep up.

“It’s not a puzzle to work out, we know the steps to take," Beshear said of mask use, social distancing, sanitizing and staying home if sick. “But it’s a team endeavor, and if the entire team in a community isn’t doing its part (...) you can’t expect to get it under control. More people will get it, and more of your neighbors will suffer.”

“We can either choose to do the steps necessary to slow this disease,” Stack said, “or the disease itself will force (us) to take the steps necessary to alter (our) behavior.”

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