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COVID-19 In Pennsylvania: We Could Have A Vaccine Within The Next Month, Dr. Rachel Levine Says

HARRISBURG (KDKA) - Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine says there could be a coronavirus vaccine available within the next month, although that won't be "an immediate cure or end" to the pandemic.

"If the federal approval process remains on track -- we still have to see that -- we could have a vaccine within the next month," Dr. Levine said at a press conference Thursday afternoon.

"However, we do not know how quickly the vaccine supply will meet the demand. It is important to remember again that when the vaccine becomes available, it will not be a cure -- certainly not an immediate cure or end -- to the coronavirus pandemic."

Dr. Levine says after Pfizer and Moderna finish their phase three trials with their vaccines, the FDA has to complete a review to grant emergency use authorization.

"There was concern in the past about the politicization of this process. I feel very comfortable that there has been no politicization of this process, that science has driven the process," said Dr. Levine.

She says there are "significant logistical challenges" to distribute and administer the vaccines to the public.

She's anticipating at least two vaccines, pointing to Moderna and Pfizer, then says there are four more in the pipeline. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines require two doses, she says, and the Pfizer vaccine has to be kept at -80 degrees Celsius.

"The Moderna vaccine we will be able to have even more of a widespread distribution because that can just be kept in the refrigerator," said Levine.

She says the state's vaccine plan, which you can read here, tries to tackle these logistical hurdles.

"Our plan takes all of that into consideration, and we stand ready to distribute and administer the vaccines. We have been working very closely with Operation Warp Speed as well as the CDC and other federal officials and other states, but we do need more funding," she said.

The CDC and federal government authorized $340 million to the states, which she said is in contrast to about $8 billion to $12 billion to develop the vaccine. She said $340 million to the state isn't enough, and she's calling for more funding.

Dr. Levine says there will be three phases of distribution and administration. The first to get it will be the "critical population" -- people like healthcare workers, those 65 years and older and residents in congregate care settings.

Once there's a large number of doses available, critical populations not yet vaccinated and the general population will get vaccinated. Once there's a sufficient supply of doses, the entire population will get vaccinated.

"We are in for a very challenging time, which is why we are talking about containment and mitigation and emphasizing how things are. We anticipate, again, that we're going to be rolling this out through the winter and then the spring and into the summer. It could take a significant amount of time to immunize everyone in Pennsylvania. I anticipate that we're going to be wearing masks in 2021, well into -- maybe until the end of -- 2021," she said.

She adds, "We're going to need to meet this challenge, and the governor and I have confidence that Pennsylvanians are strong and resilient and will meet this challenge andwill be successful.

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