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Chamber of Commerce: Vaccine to take longer than hoped

Presbyterian Healthcare Services President and CEO Dale Maxwell with the Mobile Health Center. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

A COVID-19 vaccine is on its way, but it may not arrive as soon as some might hope or expect, according to a panel of local and national experts assembled by the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce during its annual meeting Friday.

“It’s going to be further away than any of us want,” said Neil Bradley, executive vice president and chief policy officer for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Michael Ybarra, senior director of alliance development for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, didn’t provide a timeline for a potential vaccine to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and distributed widely, but acknowledged it could still be some ways off, and health restrictions may linger for the foreseeable future.

The number of new COVID-19 cases has risen sharply in New Mexico and across the country in recent weeks, prompting a slew of state-level lockdowns and restrictions.

Dale Maxwell, president and CEO of Presbyterian Healthcare Services and panel moderator, said during the meeting that New Mexico’s recently imposed two-week lockdown should help curb the spread of the virus, but added it will likely take a few weeks to see the effects.

In the meantime, Maxwell said nearly all of the hospital systems across the state are at or above capacity as of Friday.

“We have a couple of dark weeks ahead of us,” Maxwell said.

Ybarra said while large pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer and AstraZeneca have gotten most of the headlines regarding the development of a vaccine, there are hundreds of clinical trials occurring across the country, with developers taking a variety of approaches.

Carl Garner, vice president of regulatory affairs for the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly and Co., said the main challenges will be mass producing and distributing an effective vaccine to states.

“That’s what we’re finding is a barrier right now,” Garner said.

In the meantime, small businesses looking for an extra round of federal relief may be disappointed. Bradley said he’s less optimistic now than he was earlier in November that Congress might pass an additional stimulus package in the next several months, citing the “historically unique” situation after the election.

“The hope that was experienced a week and a half ago is quickly fading,” Bradley said.

Bradley said the one thing that could push Congress to act more quickly is pressure from the small business community.

“There’s nothing to be gained by waiting,” Bradley said. “The only thing to be gained by waiting is more small business closures.”

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