Clinical trials for COVID-19 vaccines are going well and hopes are running high that distribution could begin in a couple of months.
But the typical adult without underlying health conditions should not expect to get an injection anytime soon, according to state and local health officials.
“I do anticipate that for a while, even after a vaccine becomes available, we will still be continuing our practices of social distancing, respiratory hygiene and the use of the cloth face covering,” Assistant State Health Officer Dr. Karen Landers told FOX10 News.
Mobile County Health Department epidemiologist Rendi Murphree agreed, pegging the timeframe at “well into 2021” for many people.
While distributing the vaccine will be a huge job, Landers said Alabama does not have to reinvent the wheel. The state already has a plan for mass vaccinations that it has followed for past campaigns. The biggest recent example is the H1NI pandemic in 2009.
During that outbreak, Landers said, the department handed out 6,000 doses over a three-day period in one mid-size county. This effort likely will involve many more doses and take much longer. Landers said the state is expanding refrigeration capacity in anticipation of keeping vaccines from spoiling.
The state is working with federal authorities to set up the pipeline even before a vaccine has won approval. Landers said doctors’ offices, urgent care centers and other providers will join the effort. Still, she cautions, this isn’t something that will be over in a few days.
“Starting out, you would certainly be looking at weeks to vaccinate – weeks to months, depending on, again, the supply of the vaccine you have, the demand that you had and the other resources that you would pull in to be able to administer vaccines,” she said.
Murphree, the the department’s Bureau of Disease Surveillance and Environmental Services, said at a briefing Friday that the county health department also has a mass vaccination plan that it will draw on when a COVID-19 vaccine does arrive.
“In fact, we had planned an exercise where we were going to off Hepatitis A vaccination just at the time that COVID came to Mobile County, and so we are looking forward to, you know, to scheduling some mass vaccine events, drive-through events, when we get enough vaccine to do that,” she said.
Like Landers, though, Murphree tempered expectations for rapid distribution in the community at large. She said the first doses likely will require shipping in liquid nitrogen to keep them extremely cold. Those probably will go to hospitals first, she said.
“Most likely, it will be hospitals that would get the first dose of vaccine, and that vaccine would be where those people who are at greatest risk of contracting suffering complications or deaths of COVID will be the first ones who are eligible to receive COVID vaccine,” she said.
Landers and the precise prioritization has not been determined. But she agreed that people with a high risk of contracting the novel coronavirus and those with a high risk of bad outcomes would be first in line.