“Exciting progress” being made on vaccine, Philly health chief says

Health Commissioner Thomas Farley reported 427 additional coronavirus cases Monday, a decrease from what was recorded late last week.
PHOTO: MELISSA MITMAN

Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said Tuesday that there’s been “exciting progress” on a COVID-19 vaccine and that he expects at least one will be deployed early next year.

Philadelphia was the only city chosen to participate in a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pilot program to develop a plan to distribute a vaccine once it is approved, he confirmed during a briefing with reporters.

“There’s much to be worked out, but still, it’s exciting to be thinking through this right now because ultimately this is the way to end this epidemic,” Farley said.

California, Florida, Minnesota and North Dakota are also said to be part of the program.

Forty vaccinations are currently being tested on humans, and three are in their final phase of trials, Farley said. One developed by the University of Oxford and Astrazeneca is already in production, as researchers are confident it will prove effective.

Another version made by Moderna, a Massachusetts-based company, is currently being tested on 30,000 people at 80 sites across the country, according to Farley.

Russian leaders have said they will begin using a vaccine in October, and members of the Chinese military are reportedly already receiving shots. Farley said neither of those vaccinations have undergone rigorous study.

“Here in Philadelphia, we will wait until we have those studies to demonstrate the vaccines are safe and effective, but I am optimistic,” he said. “I do expect that we will have a vaccine that is proven safe and effective to offer sometime in the first few months of 2021.”

It will likely be available in limited doses at first, Farley added, meaning some will receive priority, likely the elderly and those with chronic medical conditions that put them at a higher risk of severe symptoms from the virus.

He said another group that could be prioritized is nursing home employees and other people working closely with those at high risk.

Philadelphia will make an effort to ensure the vaccine is accessible to black residents, who have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, Farley said.

Officials reported 84 new coronavirus cases Tuesday, which is slightly lower than recent numbers. However, case counts have been up slightly this week.

The 7-day average is at 122 cases a day, above last week’s 108 but about on par with the prior week.

More tests are being conducted, and the city’s positivity rate has remained stable at about 4% over the past two weeks, Farley said.

Among Tuesday’s new cases, about half occurred in people under the age of 40. Mayor Jim Kenney expressed frustration at seeing block parties and indoor gatherings around the city during recent weekends.

“I have no idea what they are thinking,” he said. “Maybe they think they think they’re invincible, that they’re young and healthy and no virus can knock them down.”

In other COVID-19-related news, trash collection is running approximately one day behind, Kenney said.

Earlier this week, the Streets Department advised residents to expect delays, including significant back-ups in recycling collection due to severe weather, increased tonnage and attendance issues.

Kenney said around 200 sanitation workers are calling out every day. The workforce has been hit hard by the virus, and the city is in the process of hiring about 125 new trash collectors.

The city’s food distribution program, which was started early in the pandemic, will continue in the fall on a reduced schedule, officials said Tuesday.

Most city-run food sites will stop operating on Mondays after Aug. 24 and begin Thursday-only distribution. People can pick up one box per family for free between 10 a.m. and noon.

The program has distributed about 470,000 boxes so far. For more information, go to phila.gov/food.

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