Mayor’s Update, December 14, 2020


This is Dr. Joe Pat Hatem, Mayor of the City of Southport.  I would like to give you an update on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although Christmas Eve is two weeks away, for the public health, medical and scientific community, Christmas is today.  The first COVID -19 immunization was given today that was not part of a clinical trial. It is a day to celebrate and give thanks to all those involved, the corporations such as Pfizer and Moderna, the governmental agencies, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration,  the many vaccine advisory boards involved, and the citizens who agreed to be a part of the Pfizer Vaccination Study, where the Phase 3 clinical trial, showed a 95% efficacy with respect to the 43,000 participants who were randomized into two groups, those that received the vaccine and those who received a placebo injection. From this study, there were 170 cases of COVID-19, 162 in the placebo group, and only 8 in the immunization group. Strong data to support the EUA, the Emergency Use Authorization that was issued by the FDA on December 11, 2020.  Also of note, there were acceptable side effects that were associated with this vaccine, including fatigue and headache.

As stated by the FDA Commissioner, Peter Hahn, concerning the development of the vaccine, this is an “unparalleled scientific achievement that will resonate for many future generations” and that “we worked quickly based on the urgency of this pandemic.”

The science and the review process has been open, extensive, and based on data and not politically driven. The vaccine is safe and uses an elegant approach where the vaccine consists of a messenger RNA that will produce in the body a protein that is similar to the protein spike that is used by the coronavirus to attach to cells in our nasal membranes and respiratory system. Our immune system will then make an antibody to this protein spike antigen so when we are exposed to the coronavirus, it will not be able to cause an illness in the immunized person. There is a priority in terms of those who receive the immunization which will begin with the frontline health care heroes, like the ICU nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center who was the first to receive the immunization at that facility today. The immunization is a two-step process. The first immunization to prime the immune system and the second immunization 21 days later to boost the immune system. It is a daunting logistical task with the shipping of the vaccine, the cold storage requirement, the thawing of the vials, the dilution for the actual immunization, with each vial containing five immunizations. But there has been great planning and these challenges will be met and distribution will be successful.  After frontline workers are immunized, of which there are roughly 24 million in the United States, then the next priority will be workers and residents of nursing homes and skilled care facilities from where 40% of deaths have occurred. The immunization for the public will begin early in 2021.  We must remember, this is a long road to overall immunity where we would need between 75% to 85% of our country to be immunized for there to be herd immunity.  Until then public health mitigation measures must continue.

As for the data, the COVID-19 pandemic is clearly out of control. Again, this is behavior-driven.  In the United States—over 16 million documented cases with almost 300,000 deaths. In North Carolina -423,623 cases with almost 6,000 deaths. And in Brunswick County-3,572 cases and 66 deaths. If you look at the numbers of cases in Brunswick County beginning in August, the last two weeks, there were 88 cases. In September, cases are broken down into two-week intervals –108 and 134.  In October 298 and 276 cases, and in November  296 cases in the first two weeks and 465 cases the last two weeks of November. We have not stopped the pandemic.  It could be much worse and I want to thank all those who are following protective protocols with respect to COVID-19.

For Southport, we will continue the emergency declaration with respect to city facilities through Memorial Day Weekend. Full immunization of the U.S. population could be possible by mid-summer so we will reassess as time and data allow. We continue to follow the Governor’s Executive Orders, and we will promote the public health measures that we know will help to stop the spread of the virus—Wear a facial covering, social/physical distance, hand washing, avoid crowds and small gatherings, do not travel unless absolutely essential, spend Christmas safely at home. And remember, if the immunization stays in the vial, the pandemic continues.

As your Mayor, as a doctor, as a public health advocate, I am asking you to remain vigilant.  Continue the public health initiatives that I have described and when the time comes, roll up your sleeve, and if you do so, as I plan to do, you will be among one of the heroes that help to save lives.