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Vaccines show promise, but how many will take a shot?

Two vaccines for the coronavirus are close to seeking permission for emergency use in the United States, and more are in the works. But the vast majority of Americans would have to receive a vaccine for an age of mask-clad faces and social distancing to become a thing of the past, public health experts said Tuesday.

“I would think at least 75%,” White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said Tuesday during the DealBook Online Summit presented by The New York Times.

The most recent polls, however, are showing that far fewer people around the globe plan to take the vaccine.

“We’re not there yet in terms of the public intent based on a lot of the global surveys. That’s a bit below that. It’s more 50 or 60%. Depends on the country. It’s actually quite variable across countries,” Heidi Larson, an anthropologist and the director of The Vaccine Confidence Project, said in a later panel discussion with the Times’ Andrew Ross Sorkin.

Those polls were conducted before Pfizer announced last week that it had developed a vaccine that appeared to be more than 90% effective, and Moderna said Tuesday its vaccine appears to be 94.5% effective. Local pulmonologist Dr. Ahammed Hashim said the results “look very promising, actually they look great.”

And when it comes to polls, the public wants to know that vaccines are effective and safe before making a commitment, Larson said.

“We’re about to rerun a lot of surveys because this will change. This will change how people think. So I think there is hope,” Larson said.

The message of safety also needs to come from local officials, clergy and trusted members of communities, not just from far away health experts.

“We learned a lot with the polio eradication initiative about getting as local as you can, and really … listening,” she said.”In some cases it’s the religious leaders. Somewhere else it might be the teachers.”

A Dallas Morning News/UT Tyler poll in October indicates that about half of Texans said they would take the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available. Around 27% said they would not take a vaccine, and the remainder expressed no opinion.

Supplies to inoculate 75% of the world’s population might take well into 2021 to produce. Pfizer says it expects to produce 50 million doses — enough to to inoculate 25 million people — by the end of the year. Around 1.3 billion doses are expected in 2021.

“The demand will be so big that it’s going to be … injected in hours rather than days or weeks,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said during the forum.

Both vaccines have different cold storage temperatures. The Pfizer vaccine must be stored at nearly 100 degrees below zero, and engineers have designed a shipping container to keep the vaccine fresh, Bourla said.

Pfizer has faced criticism from President Donald Trump, who said he felt the company delayed an announcement on the vaccine until after the Nov. 3 election.

“Some want us to move faster. Some want us to move slower. What I’m going to tell you is we’re going to move at the speed of science, which is what we did,” Bourla said. “I predicted we’d have efficacy results by the end of October and many people told me it’s too soon and complained. Then I announced first week of November, many people told me it is too late. It is what science does.”

The Pfizer vaccine is funded in part by tech billionaire Bill Gates. The Moderna vaccine is funded in part by county music star Dolly Parton, who donated $1 million to Vanderbilt University for research early in the pandemic.

Gates’ involvement has fueled baseless conspiracy theories, saying the Microsoft co-founder will use the vaccine to implant unwitting patients with tracking devices. Parton hasn’t faced any such rumors.

“I’m surprised at the conspiracy theories. I think I’m supposed to make it clear they’re not true,” Gates said. “But where does that come from? Is it because these are uncertain times? People prefer a simpler story than the biological stenosis that took place? I hope it fades away because we’re just trying to play a constructive role.”

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been a major player in research and distribution of vaccines around the world. Gates acknowledges the work is “relatively obscure” and not often publicized in the United States.

“Malaria has gone from the rich countries. TB is very limited. Even HIV is largely contained,” Gates said.

He’s holding out hope that conspiracy theories fade and new polls show more confidence in taking a coronavirus vaccine.

“People do want to protect themselves. They do want to protect their parents and grandparents,” he said. “I hope we’re surprised on the upside by the demand for the vaccine.

Fauci: Unite against virus

The country’s top infectious disease expert urged Americans to set aside politics and form a unified front in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic as news of successful vaccine trials indicates the ordeal that has shaped 2020 might soon come to an end.

“We’ve got to do everything we possibly can to pull together as a nation and not as individual factions having differences that spill over into public health. Public health is something that has really nothing to do with politics. I mean, it’s just a reality of what infectious diseases are,” White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said during Tuesday’s DealBook Online Summit presented by The New York Times.

Nearly every aspect of the pandemic — from face coverings in public to drugs used in treating symptoms — has been politicized as the nation has been held in the grips of the worst public health crisis in more than a century.

Fauci, who has advised six presidents since he was appointed director of the National Institution of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in 1984, and said he preferred to remain “an apolitical public health person.”

Despite overwhelming scientific evidence of the dangers of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, many people have become lax in following public health recommendations like wearing a face mask and frequent hand washing.

Fauci credits such “COVID fatigue” with recent spikes in cases at home and abroad.

“Take a look at the data. We have 245,000 deaths, and 11 million infections,” Fauci said. “You have a personal and a societal responsibility to protect yourself and those around you. We’ve got to get that message from every single person involved in it, and we got to keep hammering it home.”

Nacogdoches lung specialist Dr. Ahammed Hasim has been hammering home the message since the start of the pandemic. He and his wife, Dr. Binusha Moitheennazima are among the physicians treating the patients sickest with COVID-19.

“It’s exciting news because the vaccines look very promising, actually they look great, but we’re still several months away from that, so we need to keep COVID-19 under control until then. Masks work and social distancing works and we don’t need to relax those things that we know work in anticipation of the vaccine,” Hashim said. “Actually we need to work even harder to control this disease while we wait for the vaccine.”

Nacogdoches County saw an uptick over the weekend in new infections, and Texas is in the midst of a boom of new cases and hospitalizations .

“We’re seeing the numbers of coronavirus cases increasing, not decreasing as we would have hoped. Now is the time to be even more careful, not the time to relax, especially in our vulnerable populations,” Hashim said. “We don’t want to lose even one life we don’t have to lose when we’re this close to having a vaccine.”

Complicating health officials’ ability to get the coronavirus under control is that around 40% of people infected with the virus will show no symptoms. Of those who do become ill, around 80% can be treated at home.

“But there is a segment of our society which is a significant group of vulnerable people that when they get infected they have a high degree of risk of getting into trouble. That’s disproportionately represented in minority populations, but it’s the elderly and those with underlying conditions,” Fauci said.

Risk factors for serious illness from the virus include obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

Last week, Pfizer announced that it had developed a vaccine that appeared to be more than 90% effective. Moderna on Tuesday said its vaccine appears to be 94.5% effective. Both companies are now on track to seek permission within weeks for emergency use in the U.S.

Both vaccines require two shots, given several weeks apart. U.S. officials said they hope to have about 20 million Moderna doses and another 20 million of the vaccine made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech to use in late December.

At least three more vaccines are in the works from other American drugmakers.

A vaccine can’t come fast enough, as virus cases topped 11 million in the U.S. over the weekend — 1 million of them recorded in just the past week — and governors and mayors are ratcheting up restrictions ahead of Thanksgiving. The outbreak has killed more than 1.3 million people worldwide, over 246,000 of them in the U.S.

Stocks rallied on Wall Street and around the world on rising hopes that the global economy could start returning to normal in the coming months. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained more than 470 points, or 1.6%, to close at a record high of over 29,950. Moderna stock was up almost 10%.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Pilgrim's initiative earmarks $735k for Nacogdoches

Pilgrim’s Pride will contribute some $735,000 to projects in Nacogdoches as part of a multi-million investment in the communities in which it and partner company JBS USA operates.

The company has been working with local community leaders, but wants the general public to weigh in on how that money can best be allocated to serve the area as part of it’s Hometown Strong initiative.

Pilgrim’s Pride and JBS launched the Hometown Strong campaign in August to pump some $50 million into communities around the nation where the companies operate in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Texas alone will received $6.5 million of that money.

Projects submitted for the program must fall under any of the three central pillars it was founded on: alleviating food insecurity, building up community infrastructure, or response to and relief from the pandemic.

“It was developed as a way to provide meaningful support to the communities where we operate,” said Pilgrim’s Pride communications director Nikki Richardson. “We also wanted it to be very customized to what each community needs.”

The Pilgrim’s Pride plant in Nacogdoches employees 1,500 people, and it relies on a network of 280 farmers scattered through East Texas, said Nikki Richardson, the company’s director of communications.

In the past five years, the local facility has invested $51 million in capital improvements in Nacogdoches, according to a statement about the Hometown Strong initiative.

Richardson said the size of the Nacogdoches operation was taken into account when determining how much of the program’s funding would be allocated here.

Three of the cities in which the companies operate in Texas have yet to have determined amounts, according to the initiative’s website. Cactus, Texas, about 60 miles north of Amarillo in the Panhandle, has been allocated $3.3 million while Mt. Pleasant will get a $1.5 million investment. Waco will see some $260,000. The amount of money going to Dalhart, Lufkin and Pittsburg has yet to be decided.

How much money is going where and for what projects is expected to be decided by the end of the year, Richardson said.

So far, the funds have been allocated for a wide variety of projects, like building an aquatic center in Cactus, renovating a pregnancy resource center in Dumas, and a $1.4 million community rec center in Mount Pleasant. Projects outside of Texas include a children’s library in Plainwell, Michigan, and technology upgrades and computers in Marshville, North Carolina.

Richardson said while a number of projects have been discussed in Nacogdoches, nothing has been decided, and the company wants the community to bring them more ways to spend that $735,000.

“We want to give general members of the community a chance to share their feedback,” she said.

Case count grows in Nac

An increase in new coronavirus cases over the weekend could be a result of Halloween gatherings two weeks prior, but is likely at least partially due to more testing, officials at the Nacogdoches County Emergency Management Office say.

“We did see what some would call a spike over the weekend,” said County Emergency Management Office spokeswoman Amy Mehaffey, referring to 26 new cases confirmed between Friday evening and Monday. On one of those days, however, more than 300 tests for the virus were administered, vs. the 100 to 150 tests that are typically given.

“That 26 cases could potentially be from Halloween, but also because we’ve had an increase in testing numbers,” she said. “While it’s an uptick, we wouldn’t call it a spike. Our hospitals and ICU numbers look good, and those are the important measures to look at.”

The number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Nacogdoches County remained at 15 on Tuesday, with four of those in intensive care, according to SouthEast Texas Regional Advisory Council.

“We want to encourage the public to continue to do what we know works,” Mehaffey says. “We know Thanksgiving is coming up, and it’s really important for us to remember to keep gatherings to a minimum.”

Two new cases were confirmed Monday afternoon and nine more were added Tuesday evening. Active cases, those testing positive and still contagious, were estimated at 81.

Since local totals are based on county of residence, they don’t necessarily include the cases at SFA, where three of 200 residential spaces set aside for student isolation were in use this week. According to the university, 24 students or staff who were recently on campus tested positive.

“I would like to commend SFA,” Mehaffey said. “They are doing a great job of keeping their masks on and keeping the numbers low.”

SFA will dismiss in-person classes Friday for Thanksgiving Break, with students and faculty finishing up the fall semester with remote learning. The Spring semester will begin Jan. 8.

Two drugmakers — Pfizer and Moderna — have announced successful trials of vaccines to prevent the virus.

Both are poised to apply for emergency use permits within the next few weeks.

“The aspiration is getting enough people to be vaccinated that we no longer have a threat. As we get into the fall we could be close to a degree of normality, certainly from getting businesses open, getting sports events attended,” White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said Tuesday in an online forum hosted by the New York Times.

Staff writer Josh Edwards Contributed to this report.