During scheduled remarks at Novavax Inc. — a Gaithersburg pharmaceutical developer that has a COVID-19 vaccine candidate already in its second phase — Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said the state’s health department plans to receive some of the initial vaccines distributed in the United States, and laid out who would qualify to get them first.
Under Maryland’s early plans, staff and residents at nursing homes and assisted living facilities would be prioritized for the first round of vaccinations, as well as senior day care attendees and employees, health care workers, essential workers, public safety officials and educators.
Considering the potential volume of vaccines that will need to be mass-produced, the decision as to who should get vaccinated first already has been examined by bioethicists and researchers.
The Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security published a framework during the summer that outlined a slate of candidates who might qualify for the first doses, which included those on the front lines of the COVID-19 response such as health care and emergency workers as well as older adults and their caregivers.
Ultimately, the federal government will decide the order of vaccine priorities.
Hogan said the priority candidates he outlined Thursday represent the most vulnerable to contracting COVID-19, which has infected close to 122,000 people in Maryland and killed more than 3,700.
While nursing home residents make up just 15% of those cases, they’ve accounted for nearly 60% of the deaths.
Hogan toured the Novavax facility before giving remarks and expressed confidence in the company’s ability to produce a stable and effective vaccine. He said Novavax was “further along than any other company,” calling its vaccine candidate “one of most promising in the country and the world.”
Preceding Hogan in his remarks, Stanley C. Erck, the president and CEO of Novavax, said the company has more than doubled its employment since January and plans to expand further. Novavax previously developed vaccines for SARS and MERS viruses, he said, adding that its potential COVID-19 vaccine had the best product profile of any other candidate in the second phase of trials.
The Novavax vaccine will enter the third phase of trials soon, which will launch in the United States, the United Kingdom and India, Erck said. Third phase trials are larger and designed to confirm the safety and effectiveness results from the first and second phase trials.
“We have a global presence because we have a global disease,” Erck said. “We don’t think it’s sufficient to have a vaccine just for the U.S.”
Novavax is not the only Maryland company racing to develop a treatment for the infectious virus. Medical staff at the University of Maryland School of Medicine began recruiting volunteers for a phase 3 trial of a vaccine candidate developed by Massachusetts biotech company Moderna along with the National Institutes of Health. Earlier, it participated in preliminary trials for another potential vaccine developed by the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. and the German biotech company BioNTech.
The Moderna vaccine is among several to reach a Phase 3 trial globally but was the first one announced under Operation Warp Speed, the federal program to quickly identify, produce and distribute 300 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Antiviral drug research is also underway at University of Maryland, Baltimore County.