Editor’s note: This is the second part in a series.
Long before news of the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines were reported, plans were being made for the best way to distribute them. Demand is going to outweigh supply, particularly in the early stages, so a plan was needed to answer the question, “Who gets it first?”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came up with an outline titled, “COVID-19 Vaccination Program Interim Playbook for Jurisdiction Operations,” which was designed to give state and local health officials some guidelines.
“The goal of the U.S. government is to have enough COVID-19 vaccine for all people in the United States who wish to be vaccinated,” the executive summary stated. “Early in the COVID-19 Vaccination Program, there may be a limited supply of COVID-19 vaccine, and vaccination efforts may focus on those critical to the response, providing direct care, and maintaining societal function, as well as those at highest risk for developing severe illness from COVID-19.”
Another group, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which was created by the CDC, will be meeting today, Dec. 1, and also weigh in on the matter, although there is solid agreement that initial doses of the vaccine need to be prioritized.
The Florida Department of Health borrowed heavily from the CDC when it released the draft of its “COVID-19 Vaccination Plan” on Oct. 16. The state is using what it calls a “Phased Approach to COVID-19 Vaccination.”
Under Florida’s plan, there are three phases of vaccine availability, “Potentially Limited Dose Availability,” “Large Number of Doses Available, Supply Likely to Meet Demand” and “Likely Sufficient Supply, Slowing Demand.”
In the FDOH plan, the “priority groups” listed are “health care personnel, essential workers, persons with medical conditions that place them at high-risk for COVID-19 complications” and adults over 65.
The Pfizer vaccine is set to go before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Dec. 10. Assuming the vaccine is approved, the first doses could be distributed within a few days, according to CDC Director Robert Redfield.
Peter Marks, director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said it could take a bit longer, but the goal was to make sure it was available within a few weeks.
In a video update Wednesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis said there would be about 40 million doses ready nationwide by the end of the year. It is important to note the vaccine dosage is two injections, so, the 40 million doses translates into 20 million people vaccinated.
With the initial vaccine supply not being enough to satisfy demand, vulnerable residents of long-term care facilities will be among the first to receive the vaccines.
“There will be priorities set and in Florida we are going to set priorities focusing on specifically those most vulnerable, elderly residents in long term care facilities as well as our frontline health care workers who are interacting with vulnerable patients day in and day out. As more vaccine becomes available, we are, of course, going to want to get that into the broader senior community first and then into the broader community at large,” DeSantis said.
He urged the public to “double down” on protecting the most vulnerable while waiting for the vaccine. There are over 4,000 long-term care facilities in Florida and DeSantis said more than 3,000 have signed up for the vaccine.
With a big part of the world wanting vaccines, it’s going to be a bit of a waiting game for the majority of Americans until they can be vaccinated.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Good Morning America he was hopeful the average citizen could receive a vaccination by June 2021.
Younger people may have an even longer wait. World Health Organization Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan said it could be as late as 2022 for younger people in good health.
Dr. Cary Pigman, an emergency room physician in Highlands County, said it makes sense to have a prioritized plan at the beginning.
“I think first we have to help the people who have the most contact, that’s first responders, folks like me, then we have to get the people who are high risk: nursing homes, very elderly and multiple comorbidities,” Pigman said. “My take on the low-risk individuals, it’s not that bad of an illness.”
Pigman did say the number of new cases each day may not have a dramatic decline after the vaccine is being given, but he is more concerned with seeing the number of fatalities drop.
“I think the world will start to look a lot better once your high-risk individuals are immunized,” he said. “The numbers that will look better is the fatality rate. The case incidences, the 6,000 we’re seeing a day now, if 4,500 of those are people age 20 to 40 who are healthy, that number is going to continue until that group gets immunized. But that’s not really the number that worries me. The number that worries me is the fatalities.”