Montana Hospital, Public Health Experts Raise Coronavirus Concerns To Daines, FDA

Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines July 22 reiterated the federal government’s intention to deliver a COVID-19 vaccine within the calendar year during a roundtable with a U.S. Food and Drug Administration official and nearly a dozen hospital and public health experts across the Treasure State.

Daines struck an urgent tone while discussing progress on domestic vaccine production.

“Because as you know, every day matters. We’re seeing hospitalizations spike, COVID-19 positive tests. Time is of the essence,” he said.

The roundtable followed Wednesday’s announcement that the Trump administration plans to buy 100 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine being developed by U.S. drugmaker Pfizer, after its regulatory approval.

Jason Smith, chief advancement officer of Bozeman Health, wondered how initial limited vaccine supplies will be distributed in Montana following previous supply shortages.

“We have faced significant challenges in receiving those items that are so important in our desire to provide care to our patients,” Smith said.

Daines said vaccine distribution plans will consider impacted populations, the needs of essential workers and other factors.

Bozeman Health CEO John Hill questioned how vaccine development is impacted by new research suggesting COVID-19 antibodies may fade quicker than expected.

Dr. Gregory Tierney of Benefis Health System in Great Falls said he’s “seriously concerned” about the potential for a COVID-19 outbreak at nearby Malmstrom Air Force Base, which maintains intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Several speakers also brought up testing bottlenecks. Dr. Jay Evans directs the University of Montana center currently developing a COVID-19 vaccine. He said work is being held up while several employees potentially exposed to the virus await test results at home, which can take up to a week.

“The concern is this fall when students return to campus and other schools across the state that, hopefully not, but the assumption is we’ll see a resurgence in cases,” Evans said.

FDA Deputy Commissioner Dr. Anand Shah said the agency is working with developers to get more rapid turnaround tests out the door, which will be critical as Americans return to school and work in coming weeks.

Shah also addressed therapeutic COVID-19 drugs, saying his agency is watching more than 140 active clinical trials.

“This work is really beginning to pay off, as we saw with the recent positive results coming out of the [National Institutes of Health] on Remdesivir in certain hospitalized patients with severe COVID-19,” Shah said.

Wednesday’s roundtable proceeded against the backdrop of Congress considering its next coronavirus relief bill. Daines said he’s pushing for more vaccine development funding in the legislation.

He said previous relief funding has led to several promising vaccines being developed on an expedited dual-track schedule, which means pharmaceutical companies begin manufacturing before testing concludes.

“We shave off 6 months or more by doing it this way,” Daines said.