Last week I heard a news story about the Covid-19 vaccine. I excitedly listened as it was explained how soon the vaccine might be available. According to the newscaster, once Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccines are authorized, Americans could start receiving shots within 24 to 48 hours.
First in line would be frontline healthcare workers and people at the highest risk of becoming seriously ill, such as elderly Americans with preexisting health conditions, and I thought, “Well, of course. That makes sense.”
Then I heard, vaccines would be more widely available to young, healthy members of the general public in the Spring of 2021….
I instantly turned into Private Benjamin. I guess I’m not that young, but for those of you who remember, there was a scene in the movie where the spoiled young ingenue, Goldie Hawn (who isn’t young anymore either) joins the military and, during some grueling exercise, breaks down and starts whining about the things she wants to do.
I want go out to lunch. I want be NORMAL again!
Me too, Judy Benjamin, me too.
Don’t get me wrong; I want all the people who should have the vaccine first to get it first. I just want it too! So, I went looking for a bit more information on how all of this will work when the time comes.
I found the Washington State Department of Health continues to progress with their COVID-19 vaccine distribution planning efforts.
Vaccine authorizations and approvals
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) received its first Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) application from a COVID-19 vaccine manufacturer on November 20. This is encouraging news about the potential for vaccines to be used as a prevention tool to control the pandemic. A EUA allows the FDA to make a product available during a declared state of emergency before it has a full license.
The FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee will meet on December 10 to review the EUA application. Vaccine safety is of the utmost importance to communities in Washington. If the EUA is approved, the vaccine will then be vetted by the western states’ Scientific Safety Review Workgroup.
This workgroup will provide another layer of scrutiny and expert review to this process and should take about 1 to 2 days. This will be done while the vaccine is still being processed and shipped, so it should not delay making the vaccine available to people in Washington.
First vaccine arrival
The DOH is hopeful they will have a vaccine to begin administering by mid-December. The federal government has given them an estimate of 62,400 doses of the Pfizer vaccine for their initial allocation. The government also told the state we should receive an estimated total of around 200,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine by the end of December. Regular weekly shipments should begin in January.
There is no estimate on the Moderna vaccine; they expect to learn more after the company submits their application for an emergency use authorization.
The first people eligible to receive vaccines are high-risk workers in health care settings. This is called phase 1A. The state will share more information about vaccine phases in the coming weeks.
The vaccine candidate made by Pfizer must be stored at ultra-cold temperatures. Fortunately, locations that do not have ultra-cold storage capacity can still store this vaccine in the special thermal shipper the vaccine comes in. This allows additional sites to receive the vaccine as long as they can vaccinate at least 975 people in 20 days. They are also working on a policy that will allow hospitals who don’t expect to vaccinate 975 people to transfer extra vaccines to other enrolled facilities. This will reduce wasted vaccine.
Providers who have fully enrolled in the COVID-19 Vaccine Program by December 6 will be eligible to receive part of the first shipment. As of November 25, 54 providers were fully enrolled, with many more applications partially completed or pending approval. They encourage clinics, pharmacies, and hospitals to enroll in the program soon to make the deadline. They can enroll at www.COVIDVaccineWA.org.
The DOH will coordinate with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to ship vaccines directly to enrolled providers once the vaccine is available. Providers will then be responsible for storing and administering the vaccine. They are meeting with enrolled and interested providers regularly to provide updates and technical assistance. They will know in early December which facilities will get the vaccine first.
The potential good news is that other vaccine candidates could get emergency authorization too. This would significantly speed up the process and make the vaccine more widely available to the public. So fingers crossed that soon we can all go out to lunch and be NORMAL again soon.