COVID-19 vaccine presents distribution challenges for Arizona health officials

Posted at 3:31 PM, Sep 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-17 21:49:47-04

TUCSON, Ariz.  — Officials say the COVID-19 vaccine is coming by the end of the year, and the federal government is already preparing.

Preparation in the state of Arizona is also underway. State health officials are also gearing up for the unique challenges of this new type of vaccine.

The race is on to get that Federal Drug Administration approval, with several vaccines in phase 3 trials.

"The FDA has promised that it is not going to approve a vaccine until it has found to be safe," said Dr. Elizabeth Connick, Chief of Infectious Diseases at the University of Arizona.

Dr. Connick adds that we are fortunate to have a system in place to develop a vaccine so quickly and safely.

There could be approval for a COVID vaccine before the end of the year.

"If it were found to be safe, I would be pretty confident going ahead," Dr. Connick said. "In fact, I'd like to be the first in line."

The federal government distribution plan calls for the vaccine to be free to all Americans. Authorities would begin sending the vaccine to sites across the country within 24 hours.

"Many of the manufacturers are stockpiling vaccine with the hope that it is found safe and effective," said Dr. Connick.

There are concerns with the two leading vaccines. Not about safety and efficacy, but about transportation and storage.

The vaccine being produced by Moderna needs to be stored at minus 4 degrees. Pfiser's needs to be stored at minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Arizona Department of Health Services says it will be ready for a COVID vaccine when it is ready.

In a statement to KGUN 9, ADHS said:

"CDC has notified us that one of the COVID-19 vaccine presentations in the final Phase III trials may require ultra-cold storage. The CDC also indicated that this vaccine would be shipped directly from the manufacturer to vaccinator sites in shipping containers that would maintain that ultra-low temperature for days and could be recharged as needed."

Another unique challenge with the COVID-19 vaccine is that most people would need to receive two doses.

I am enrolled in the Moderna phase 3 trial and have received two doses 28 days apart.

This will create the need for follow-up appointments, requiring coordination with providers and follow-through from the public.

Moderna's CEO said on Thursday that Moderna should have enough data from its phase 3 trial by November, to know whether the vaccine works. That would allow Moderna to apply for FDA approval, and start to distribute its vaccine before the end of 2020.