Pfizer to produce COVID-19 vaccine in Kalamazoo

Fiona Goodall/Getty Images

More than 4,100 deaths and almost 44,000 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Michigan — which will now be one of three states where Pfizer will begin manufacturing a vaccine to prevent the disease.

On Monday, Pfizer announced it will begin manufacturing a vaccine at a site in Kalamazoo, along with other sites located in Andover, Mass.; Chesterfield, Mo.; and Purrs, Belgium.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer noted Michigan’s manufacturing infrastructure was well-prepared to handle producing the vaccine.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gives an update on COVID-19 | Gov. Whitmer office photo

“We are so proud that one of the largest pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities in the world is the Pfizer site right here in Kalamazoo, Michigan,” she said. “In fact, Michigan has a strong history of vaccine development with the polio and anthrax vaccines. Pfizer is a great partner and the State of Michigan and our strong manufacturing roots stand ready to serve.”

U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R- St. Joseph) also lauded the positive development from Pfizer.

“We know that a vaccine is the only true way for us to get back to normal and begin on our road to recovery,” he said. “That recovery begins with Pfizer’s exciting developments here in Kalamazoo. We are all wishing for the best here and will closely monitor Pfizer’s progress.”

COVID-19 has infected 1.2 million people in the United States and killed almost 70,000. Worldwide, there are now more than 3.6 million cases and 254,000 deaths.

Pfizer first announced it had teamed up with German-based biotechnology company BioNTech to develop a vaccine to treat or combat COVID-19 in late March, as previously reported by the Advance.

Drugmakers say they’re racing to develop COVID-19 treatments, but Dems say they must be affordable 

BioNTech is using a messenger RNA (mRNA) platform to quickly develop its vaccine, called BNT162.

Messenger RNA is important to this type of vaccine because DNA-based vaccines need to interact with the nucleus of the cell, but mRNA is found across the cell and is much more accessible.

During a March call with the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), which represents drugmakers, Pfizer Chief Scientific Officer Mikael Dolsten said he sees mRNA as a platform for the future to deal with these rapidly emerging health threats.

Pfizer said four different mRNA vaccines have been developed, and the first stage of the clinical trials are now underway. The trials are a crucial part of determining how safe the vaccine is, what the optimal dosage would be and how a person’s body will react to it.

Trials are currently taking place at New York University Grossman School of Medicine, the University of Maryland School of Medicine and Germany. More trials will soon be underway at the University of Rochester Medical Center/Rochester Regional Health and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

Michigan reports almost 44K COVID-19 cases, 4,135 deaths

Pfizer said it has plans to enroll up to 360 people in trials, and the participants will be divided into two age groups.

The first age range is 18 to 55 years old, and the second group of people Pfizer will be studying will range from 65 to 85 years old. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says seniors 65 and older, are at higher risk for severe illness due to COVID-19.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has begun collecting data focused on the percentage of overall COVID-19 cases and deaths organized by age.

DHHS reports people aged 0 to 19 account for 2% of cases and fewer than 1% of deaths in the state. Those aged 20 to 29 compose 10% of cases and fewer than 1% of deaths. People 30 to 39 account for 13% of total cases and 1% of deaths. Those 40 to 49 are 16% of cases and 3% of deaths in Michigan. People 50 to 59 account for 19% of cases and 8% of deaths.

DHHS reports that people age 60 to 69 account for 17% of COVID-19 cases and 19% deaths reported in the state. People aged 70 to 79 account for 12% of the total cases and 28% of deaths. And those 80 and older are 11% of the total cases by 41% of deaths in Michigan.