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State prepares for when a COVID-19 vaccine is ready and available

Posted at 10:00 PM, Sep 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-26 01:00:39-04

As Arizona steps up its fight to reduce and track the spread of COVID-19, it is also preparing for the day when a vaccine is available for distribution.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention targeted November 1 for a limited roll-out if a vaccine is ready by then. How it's shipped, where it goes, and who gets it, are all part of the logistical challenges states are now figuring out.

"This was something that really stole the show at our last video teleconference with the Coronavirus Task Force," Governor Ducey said Thursday. "Although we do not have a vaccine at this time, the framework in terms of distribution and ideas around that are being formulated by all 50 governors."

In Arizona, the Department of Health Services has been working on a mass distribution plan for months, including weekly meetings with its COVID-19 Task Force. A group that includes tribal, state, and local public health and emergency management agencies, as well as healthcare partners, which include hospitals, outpatient providers, pharmacists, and EMS providers, and others.

Arizona's plan will resemble what it did ten years ago when ADHS oversaw the distribution of the vaccine for the N1H1 virus, the swine flu.

"They're not starting with a blank sheet of paper, that's the good news," Wendy Smith-Reeve said. Smith-Reeve is the former Director of Arizona's Division of Emergency Management and is now an ABC15 analyst.

Smith-Reeve says distributing the COVID-19 vaccine will present its own set of unique challenges. For starters, there may be more than one type of vaccine, including one in development from Pfizer, which needs to be stored at 70 degrees Celsius, or -94 degrees Fahrenheit.

"It's understanding what resources are out there in the community," Smith-Reeve said. "What can they receive. Do they have the ability to receive? Or do they need to make some modifications, like get freezers."

The vaccine for swine flu went directly to the counties where it was distributed to health care providers. The COVID-19 vaccine distribution figures to be a bit more complicated as the Governor alluded to on Thursday.

"It would take the resources of the United States Military, the National Guard, of course, FEMA and long with DEMA, to do this, private sector partners, as well as the universities, would play a role."

The details are still being worked out, but ADHS says it will have the distribution plan ready by mid-October. A spokesperson for the Maricopa County Department of Public Health said it's been planning for and exercising mass vaccine distribution for several years as part of its public health preparedness and response program. He added extensive state and county plans exist and these are being used as the basis for COVID-19 vaccine distribution planning.

A complete roll-out of the vaccine will take months. During the H1N1 pandemic, health care workers, pregnant women, children, and older adults with underlying health conditions were the first to receive the vaccine. With COVID-19, first responders will be added to the list of those who receive the vaccine first.