TAMPA, Fla. — As Florida opens back up, some people are waiting on more than a signal from Governor Ron DeSantis.
They’re waiting on a vaccine for COVID-19.
Jayson Polansky is one of those people. A weekly early-morning trip to the grocery store is the biggest risk he’s willing to take.
“I know exactly where I’m going. I load it up, mask, everything, out the door. Once I put everything away, I wash myself off, change my clothes and then I’m back at home, where it’s safe,” said Polansky, who lives in Tampa.
“I’m not a scared guy. It’s just I have one of those conditions that it kills,” he added.
Polansky has an underlying heart issue, putting him at high risk if he were to contract the virus. He said it’s forced him to hang up his keys as an Uber driver and stop his work baking for local restaurants.
“I might have to sell the house. But I’d sell the house before I risk my life,” said Polansky.
Polansky told I-Team Investigator Kylie McGivern a vaccine would mean, “Life. Back to normal.”
WHEN COULD WE SEE A VACCINE?
In a recent interview with the Journal of the Americans Medical Association (JAMA), Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has become a household name during the pandemic, said we could see a vaccine for COVID-19 by the beginning of 2021.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” said Dr. Fauci.
Dr. Fauci said a vaccine from the company Moderna is scheduled to enter its third and final trial phase in July.
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“There will be 30,000 people in the trial, it’s going to be a big trial because we want to get as many data points as we possibly can,” said Dr. Fauci.
It’s a race against time to develop a coronavirus vaccine as the death count continues to tick up.
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WILL THE VACCINE BE A SURE THING?
Dr. Michael Teng, a virologist with the University of South Florida, called the timeline aggressive and said, “It will be faster than any other vaccine ever produced.”
Teng pointed out that recent vaccines have taken more than a decade to get to the public.
“The last few vaccines that have been put on the market have taken between 10-15 years," said Dr. Teng.
A vaccine for COVID-19 isn’t even a sure thing.
“That’s certainly one of the worries,” said Dr. Teng. “The virus that I work on, respiratory syncytial virus, RSV, this virus was first identified in 1957. And we still don’t have a vaccine for it.”
Teng said there are still a lot of unknowns when it comes to helping scientists develop an effective vaccine, including what percentage of the population would need to be vaccinated to stop the spread of COVID-19.
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“We don’t know how contagious the virus is. If we could get away with a lower percentage of the population that’s actually immune and that will block transmission, then that might be OK. But we really don’t know,” said Dr. Teng.
Dr. Fauci has said one thing that is known, is that potential vaccines are being fast-tracked with the help of the federal government.
“We’re going to start manufacturing doses of the vaccines way before we even know that the vaccine works,” said Dr. Fauci. “By the beginning of 2021, we hope to have a couple of hundred million doses. So it isn’t as if we’re going to the make the vaccine, show it’s effective and then have to wait a year to rev up to millions and millions and millions of doses. That’s going to be done as we’re testing the vaccine.”
TAMPA COMPANY'S PUSH FOR VACCINE
Oragenics, a company based in Tampa, wants to start its own clinical trial to help with the search for a vaccine.
“While we may be late to the game, our technology is a bit more advanced as far as an established track record for developing vaccines — compared to some of the early entrants, who are more cutting edge as far as new types of vaccines,” said Alan Joslyn, CEO of Oragenics.
Joslyn said their mission to develop a vaccine for coronavirus, is really about freedom.
“The ability to go back to the way life was before this pandemic is important for people,” said Joslyn. “A vaccine that actually protests us allows us to go back into that type of a lifestyle that we’ve been so accustomed to. Without that vaccine, we’re relying on a number of people getting sick, which nobody wants, in order to protect society as a whole as that virus sweeps through the entirety of our population.”
Dr. Teng said, because life was put of hold in many ways due to stay-at-home orders, the country has been able to lessen the spread. But as restrictions ease, without a vaccine, he has growing concerns.
“We’re in a position that there’s nothing else we can do right now except to try to not get infected,” said Dr. Teng.