Q&A: UW’s Jonathan Temte on status of a coronavirus vaccine and how it will be distributed

By Steven Elbow, The Cap Times

If anyone in Wisconsin was poised to play a part in the coronavirus pandemic, it was Jonathan Temte. A physician and associate dean with the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Temte is also an expert in vaccine and immunization policy who sat on the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices for eight years and is currently a member of the ACIP COVID-19 Vaccine Work Group, a panel that will help inform the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determine how a COVID-19 vaccine will be deployed.

While the federal government has spent billions in an unprecedented effort to fast-track a vaccine that could be approved in just a few months, the rollout will be fraught with moral, ethical and political issues. Who gets it first? Who wants it? And who doesn’t?

And what if another nation beats us to it, like China? How cooperative would that nation be after the cudgeling it’s getting from President Donald Trump’s administration?

Temte talked about those issues and more in with the Cap Times last week.

The development of a vaccine is moving ahead at lightning speed, with some predicting that one could be approved as early as October. From a safety standpoint, is that too fast?

My gut sense is that in the vetting process for any COVID-19 vaccine there’s going to be a high level of scrutiny for safety. So far everything has been progressing very appropriately through these Phase 1 and Phase 2 trials. And the Food and Drug administration has final say in working with the manufacturers in how to set up clinical trials, how to interpret the data and ultimately the FDA has to look at the data and accept that and determine that it’s appropriate. I have a lot of confidence in the vaccine safety infrastructure in this country.

How confident are you in the candidates?

We hope that we have a number of home runs, but I’ve been doing this long enough to know about all the vaccines out there that have made it this far along never to see the light of day. People know about the vaccines that we have. Most people don’t know about all the vaccines that were prototypical that were in clinical trials and were abandoned because they didn’t work or they produced a safety problem that was deemed unacceptable.

Where’s the development process at this point?

Right now what we have is information from the Phase 2 trials, which show that in mostly young and healthy volunteers that the vaccine is safe, and that it produces protective antibodies. But those trials are not set up to show that the vaccine actually prevents the clinical illness or prevents a person from being infected. Those are two very different benchmarks. It’s relatively easy to inject a person with a vaccine and 14 and 28 and 42 days later show that they’ve created antibodies. It’s more difficult to show that when you do that you protect them from what you’re trying to protect them from. Read more …