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Upstate Medical Doctor Assisting Promising COVID-19 Vaccine Trial

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Courtesy David Sonnenfeld
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Wikimedia Commons

Syracuse has an important connection to the latest Coronavirus vaccine study recently in the news for its 90% effectiveness in early trials. Not only have volunteers here been getting the vaccine, an Upstate Doctor is playing a critical role in getting it approved.

Upstate Medical’s Chief of Infectious Disease Doctor Stephen Thomas has been named lead investigator for Pfizer’s nationwide study that includes Syracuse and more than 100 other sites.

As for the vaccine’s effectiveness, Thomas calls the news “very encouraging,” and better than many flu vaccines if it holds up.  But he has concerns, even after approval, starting with residents believing in it.

“People have to be willing to take it. You have to be able to have enough doses to get to the people who are at risk,” Thomas said. “You have to be able to make sure that you can ship the vaccine and store the vaccine at the right temperature, and then you need processes and infrastructure in place to insure that people have access to both doses of the vaccine.”

Thomas anticipates the vaccine could be ready for front line workers and those most vulnerable by early 2021, but he cautions people not to put too much faith in it to reverse the entire pandemic.

“It is not going to be just vaccination that is going to drastically change the epidemic curve for COVID in the United States. There’s going to have to be continued and improved public health intervention. Get your flu shot, wear masks, physically distance, avoid crowds, avoid gatherings, those sorts of things,” he said.

As lead investigator, Thomas will be reviewing the nationwide data to confirm its veracity.  He says that’s critical to make sure the pharmaceutical company is double-checked.

“To have another set of eyes outside the company to look at that information (is important), but it’s important to know, the study is still ongoing and I remain blinded, which means I have no idea who receives a vaccine and who receives placebo,” Thomas said. “And that’s incredibly important because the blinding process allows us to reduce bias.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo also weighed in on the vaccine trial’s preliminary success, and congratulated Thomas for his role in a press release Monday.

"It's great news that Pfizer/BioNTech is seeing positive results from its vaccine trial, and I'm proud one of New York's foremost infectious disease experts has been selected to lead its worldwide vaccine trial. On behalf of the family of New York I would like to thank Dr. Thomas for his work fighting this invisible enemy," Cuomo said.

So Syracuse, through clinical trial volunteers and now Thomas’ oversight, is playing a key role in finding a vaccine to slow the COVID-19 pandemic.