Governor names New York team that will screen any vaccines approved by the feds

Photo courtesy of the New York State Department of Health
Clinical specimen testing for novel coronavirus (COVID-19) at New York State Department of Health’s Wadsworth Laboratory.

As several drug makers scramble to find a vaccine for COVID-19, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced he has assembled an independent Clinical Advisory Task Force which will review any federally authorized vaccines before they are distributed to the almost 19.5 million people living across New York state. 

“There are polls that say half the American people wouldn’t take the vaccine right now because they don’t believe it’s safe. I want to be able to say to New Yorkers it is safe, take it, and I want to have the best distribution because ideally we want to be the first COVID-safe state in the nation,” said Gov. Cuomo. 

The task force currently consists of seven members:

  • Charles M. Rice, Ph.D., The Rockefeller University
  • Scott M. Hammer, MD, New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center
  • Adolfo Garcia-Sastre, Ph.D., Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
  • Sharon Nachman, MD, Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University
  • Kelvin Lee, MD, Roswell Park
  • Bruce Farber, MD, Northwell Health
  • Shawneequa Callier, MA, JD, George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences

Rice is head of the Laboratory for Virology and Infectious Disease at The Rockefeller University located in New York City. His area of study is primarily pathologic viruses, or viruses that cause diseases, and antiviral immune mechanisms. On Monday, Oct. 5 Rice became a recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his contribution finding a cure for hepatitis C. In addition to contributing to the development of methods to limit infection of hepatitis C,  Rice also has also tested factors that limit infection of hepatitis B, influenza A, dengue, yellow fever, Zika, chikungunya and the coronavirus.

Rice and scientists in UT Southwestern and the University of Bern in Switzerland have been studying the family of viruses known as coronavirus, for years. They have identified a protein, LY6E, that blocks infection of SARS-CoV-2 which causes COVID-19. The protein helps to protect immune cells from becoming compromised by infection and increase chances in fighting coronaviruses. 

Hammer, M.D. is chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical, Harold C. Neau professor of infectious diseases (in medicine) and professor of epidemiology at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center. Dr. Hammer’s interests lie in studying various persistent viral infections and diseases with a focus on the treatment and prevention of HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus).

García-Sastre is director of the Global Health and Emerging Pathogens Institute and a professor in the Department of Microbiology and Department of Medicine (Division of Infectious Diseases) at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. García-Sastre’s work for the past two decades has been focused on the molecular biology of viral-host interactions, specifically regulation of innate and adaptive immune responses. His research team has developed reverse genetics which allow for manipulation of viruses such as influenza and Newcastle disease virus. His findings help to determine the severity of a disease and the development of an immunity. 

Nachman is chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital and Associate Dean for Research at the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University. Dr. Nachman’s expertise in infectious diseases has prompted her to contribute advice regarding immunization and spread of coronavirus. She has become a leader for the treatment of children with AIDS, and tuberculosis as well as flu and measles. As Director of the Maternal Child HIV/AIDS Program, Dr. Nachman has also conducted trials for vaccines for Lyme disease and AIDs.

Lee is an oncologist affiliated with Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center  located in Buffalo, New York. At Rosewall Park, Lee holds the positions of professor, Chair of the Department of Immunology, The Jacobs Family Chair in Immunology and Senior Vice President of Basic Science. He specializes in multiple myeloma, which according to the Mayo Clinic, is a cancer of the plasma cells which are meant to create antibodies that fight bacteria and viruses. Multiple myeloma causes cancerous cells to produce abnormal proteins rather than helpful antibodies. Dr. Lee’s special interests include “immunology and biology of multiple myeloma and normal plasma cells Dendritic cell biology Novel therapeutics for hematological malignancies.” He is also a research professor at the Jacobs School of Medicine & Biomedical Sciences at SUNY University at Buffalo.

Farber is affiliated with Northwell Health and holds the administrative titles of Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases, Department of Medicine at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center and Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases, Department of Medicine at North Shore University Hospital. Dr. Faber is also a professor at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell. According to the Northwell Health, his special interests include hospital infection control as well as antibiotic resistance, serving on health system committees to use his medical proficiency in order to help with infection control and emergency preparedness.

Callier is an associate professor in the Department of Clinical Research and Leadership at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. Callier teaches bioethics and has previously taught Genetics and Law as an adjunct at GW Law. According to the GW University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, she has almost twenty years of experience with analyzing genome policy and has focused on topics related to “precision medicine research and health disparities, diversity and inclusion in genomic research, genomic incidental findings, the use of race in medicine, pharmacogenomics and genetic ancestry testing.” 

The Clinical Advisory Task Force will not conduct their own scientific research, but will instead be reviewing the efficacy and safety of the federally authorized vaccine. Once a vaccine is approved, the governor announced he will assemble a separate implementation committee to ensure the vaccine is fairly distributed with factors like race, geographic location and poverty in mind. According to Gov. Cuomo, the distribution committee is in formation.