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Keep practicing preventive measures until coronavirus vaccine arrives, doctors advise

Local doctors who are leading the charge on LI in developing a COVID-19 vaccine discuss its status and answer questions.

Doctors urged Long Islanders to keep practicing preventive measures as vaccine distribution may take months to reach the general public while coronavirus cases have surged in recent weeks.

"Hope is on the horizon. And we’ve made it this far," said Dr. Uzma Syed, an infectious disease specialist at Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center, in a Newsday Live webinar Wednesday. "If we just get through the next few months, we can really hopefully all be together in good health for the next holiday season."

The discussion featuring Syed and Dr. Sharon Nachman, division chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Stony Brook Children's Hospital, came on the same day Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced New York will receive the first batch of COVID-19 vaccines for about 170,000 people in about two weeks.

Both Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have applied for accelerated authorization from the Food and Drug Administration. Approval could come later this month.

The panelists said the mRNA-based vaccine candidates were built on decades of research.

"The mRNA vaccines, while they sound new to the public, are actually built on years and years of experience working with cancer patients," Nachman said.

The experimental mRNA vaccine teaches cells to make a harmless piece called the spike protein — found on the surface of the virus that causes COVID-19, and it triggers an immune response, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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"Remember, there’s nothing live in that mRNA vaccine," Nachman said. "There’s not even a protein in the mRNA vaccine."

The United States currently has no licensed mRNA vaccines, the CDC said. The United Kingdom on Wednesday became the first country to approve the vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech.

In the coming months, the experts noted the complexities that would come with vaccine distribution.

The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices on Tuesday recommended health care workers and nursing home residents to be prioritized when the vaccines become available, guidelines that Cuomo said were in line with New York's own panel on the distribution process.

But the rollout details of a still unapproved vaccine are still up in the air, experts said.

"We are going to hear every day the updates on recommendations for who’s going to be [first, second, third] and how it’s going to roll out," Syed said.

When asked about a potential vaccine mandate, the doctors urged the public to think about their own risk of contracting the virus.

"At this point, we haven’t heard from anyone, either on the local, state or national level, about mandatory vaccinations," Nachman said. "We have heard though that if you are not going to get vaccinated, you will then contribute to our inability to control the pandemic."

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