As the half-year mark approaches at the end of December, the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) and Medical University Hospital Authority (MUHA) Board of Trustees held their regularly scheduled combined committee sessions and board meeting on Friday, Dec. 11. The meeting was held in the MUSC board room with a limited number of attendees physically present, all of whom adhered to mask wearing and social distancing to discourage the possible spread of the COVID-19 virus. A number of participants also attended via video conference.
Danielle Scheurer, M.D., chief quality officer, MUSC Health, and David Zaas, M.D., CEO for the Charleston Division of MUSC Health, summarized the current status of the COVID-19 vaccine. Scheurer noted that there are 238 vaccines in development, with 38 in the clinical testing phase and eight in phase 3 clinical trials. Two mRNA, or Messenger RNA, vaccines are currently under regulatory review: the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and the Moderna vaccine. Two other vaccines, from AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson, are completing phase 3 clinical trials.
“On Dec. 10, the FDA expert panel recommended approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which must be administered in two doses separated by three weeks apart,” Scheurer said. “This was a very large, inclusive international clinical trial with more than 40,000 enrollees. Results showed that after the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine, clinical trial participants were 95% protected against contracting COVID-19, and the vaccine was very effective in protecting against severe virus symptoms. The only logistical difficulty with this vaccine is that it does require this ultra-cold storage, which fortunately MUSC does have the capacity to provide. The other logistical difficulty is we do have to know with very high precision exactly how many people are getting vaccinated that day because once you reconstitute the vaccine, it only lasts for six hours. So as part of our operational rollout, we have to be extremely precise about how many people are getting vaccinated that day. We are not going to tolerate any amount of waste of this vaccine – for obvious reasons.”
The next step in the Food and Drug Administration-review process is for the FDA governing body to review and approve the Pfizer vaccine. Formal approval from the FDA governing body is anticipated on Saturday or Monday. MUSC Health is expecting that its first shipment of the Pfizer vaccine will include an estimated 5,000 doses. In keeping with the guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, health system care team members and long-term care residents at MUSC Health facilities will be the first groups to receive the vaccine, if they want it. MUSC Health expects to begin giving vaccinations on Tuesday, Dec. 15 and hopes that by the end of December, everyone at MUSC Health who wants the vaccine will have been vaccinated. Scheurer noted that in light of the other vaccines already in the review pipeline, we will probably have four approved COVID-19 vaccines available in February.
Kathleen T. Brady, M.D., Ph.D., vice president for Research, reported that for the fiscal year to date (FY 2021) MUSC research funding is ahead of the FY 2020 funding awards in a number of categories, including National Institutes of Health grants and corporate awards. She explained that during the spring, when the pandemic hit the United States, scientists turned their focus to developing grants to investigate the virus.
The positive trajectory of the research enterprise at mid-year is particularly noteworthy, considering the multi-layered impacts and challenges of the pandemic. Brady plans to step down from the research leadership role in 2021; however, she will continue as a faculty member with an active portfolio of funded research.
To succeed Brady, the board voted unanimously to approve the appointment of Lori L. McMahon, Ph.D., as the next vice president for Research. McMahon will oversee the Office of Research and all of its associated divisions, which includes responsibility for accreditation and regulatory affairs, university-wide promotion of research across all colleges and centers, representing the president and provost on internal and external research matters and identifying institutional research strategies and benchmarks in relation to the MUSC strategic plan. Joining MUSC after more than 22 years at UAB, she is scheduled to begin her new role on July 1, 2021, on a part-time basis until Nov. 1, 2021, when she will engage full time. McMahon will report to Lisa K. Saladin, PT, Ph.D., executive vice president for Academic Affairs and provost. To read the press release about McMahon, visit https://web.musc.edu/about/leadership/institutional-offices/communications/pamr/news-releases/2020/musc-names-lori-mcmahon-vice-president-for-research.
Kate Azizi, vice president for Institutional Advancement, reported that MUSC has raised more than $20.3 million in gifts and pledges since the fiscal year began on July 1. In addition, during annual Giving Tuesday, which occurred on Dec. 1, donors generously contributed $547,689 in gifts to MUSC, shattering the MUSC Foundation’s previous national giving day fundraising record of $110,720, which was set in May while raising funds for COVID-19 testing.
“It has been wonderful to see the community come together to support MUSC during this challenging time,” Azizi said. “For the community to show this kind of support for our mission, especially now, is inspiring and profoundly meaningful on many different levels. We are incredibly grateful to all of our donors.”
In other business, the 16-member MUSC/MUHA board also voted to approve the following items:
- To permit the MUSC health system to apply for a certificate of need (CON) for an outpatient vascular intervention lab to be located in Charleston County. As demand for these services increases, MUSC Health wants to expand capacity for outpatient services performed by an interventional radiologist or a vascular surgeon. The CON filing is required through the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC). DHEC must issue a CON before certain types of health care acquisitions, expansions and creation of new facilities are allowed.
- To allocate capital funds for information technology upgrades for MUSC Physicians. The upgrades will enhance use of the health care software for medical records and support lab modernization.
- To allow an easement on the Medical University Hospital Authority premises in Charleston, which was requested by the Commissioners of Public Works of the City of Charleston, to construct sewer lines in the Cherry Street and Cannon Street areas. The permanent underground utility easement will serve to connect surrounding sewer lines necessary to serve the Charleston peninsula.
The MUSC/MUHA Board of Trustees serve as separate bodies to govern the university and hospital, normally holding two days of committee and board meetings six times a year. For more information about the MUSC Board of Trustees, visit http://academicdepartments.musc.edu/leadership/board/index.html.