UPMC announces potential vaccine as York County reports first coronavirus-related death

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch

The state Department of Health on Thursday announced the first coronavirus-related death in York County, the same day researchers at UPMC announced a potential vaccine.

York County Coroner Pam Gay confirmed she was notified Wednesday of a virus-related death at UPMC Hanover. She declined further comment and directed additional questions to hospital officials.

UPMC Hanover officials did not immediately respond Thursday to requests seeking additional information.

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Earlier Thursday, UPMC announced a potential vaccine known as "PittCoVacc," which was first administered through a fingertip-sized patch on mice and has potential to produce sufficient antibodies specific to the novel coronavirus to neutralize it.

Researchers are now waiting for the Food and Drug Administration to approve clinical trials.

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“The FDA is making great efforts in streamlining the process for approval," said Dr. Louis Falo, professor and chair of dermatology at Pitt’s School of Medicine and UPMC. "We hope that we can get into clinical trials in the very near future."

Falo, co-senior author of the research paper, said that researchers were able to create a potential vaccine so quickly because of their previous work on past coronavirus outbreaks, including SARS. 

It still could be a year or more before the vaccine would hit the market if it is approved by the FDA, well beyond the expected peak of the coronavirus, which could come in just weeks, he said.

But the vaccine would still prove beneficial if the virus were to resurface sometime in the future, which "would not be surprising," Falo said.

Confirmed COVID-19 cases in Pennsylvania grew by 1,211 over Wednesday, bringing the state total to 7,016 — the third consecutive record day-to-day increase.

York County had 23 new cases, bringing the total to 102.

With the one death in York and 15 other new virus-related deaths across the state, the outbreak's overall death toll rose to 90 statewide.

There have been 47,698 patients who have tested negative in Pennsylvania.

More than 50% of cases have occurred in individuals under the age of 49. Hospitalizations have more prominently affected the older population, though, with 50% coming from those 65 and older.

Severe spikes in coronavirus cases nationwide have caused concerns that hospitals won't have enough beds, resources or staff to handle patients, particularly in New York City, which has become the outbreak's epicenter in the U.S.

In the best-case scenario, York-area hospitals would need to nearly double the number of beds if 20% of adults were to be infected over the next six months, according to a model created by researchers at the Harvard Global Health Institute.

Gov. Tom Wolf and state lawmakers have taken steps to slow the spread of the coronavirus, with the governor last week signing legislation boosting funding for health care facilities by $50 million.

Late Monday, President Donald Trump also approved a disaster declaration for the state, freeing up federal aid to bolster mitigation efforts.

Meanwhile, schools across the state are slated to be closed indefinitely, and Wolf on Wednesday extended his “state-at-home” order to every county in the state.

As of Thursday, there had been 963,000 known cases of the coronavirus worldwide, killing more than 49,000 people, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Nearly 217,000 cases had been confirmed in the U.S. — the most confirmed cases of any other country in the world — with the death toll exceeding 5,100.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.